In a region blessed with several charming towns and cities, Lucca is up there with the most cherished. A popular excursion for visitors based in Florence, the historic Tuscan town on the Serchio river is awash with ancient sites and landmarks dating back to the halcyon days of the Roman empire, as well as some beautiful, well-preserved cathedrals. Pretty cobblestone streets dotted with bars and cafés make wandering around an added delight.
Lucca lets you take a step back in history in a very real sense, with numerous buildings and places of interest stretching back centuries still here in their current, albeit time-worn. form. It is this more than anything that makes the town such a unique place to visit, but there are also several other ways you can get a taste of its inimitable qualities. Here’s our pick of 7 of the best unique things to see and do in Lucca.
1. Piazza dell’Anfiteatro
Built on the ruins of an ancient Roman ampitheatre, the perpetually lively plaza of Piazza dell’Anfiteatro is one of Lucca’s unique landmarks thanks to its rich and dramatic history. Where today you’ll find the genteel presence of shops and restaurants, several centuries ago it was instead the stage for regular epic battles between Roman gladiators watched by rapturous, blood-thirsty onlookers. Still constructed around the shape of the original ampitheatre, the square can be reached via four gateways, and as well as it dramatic heritage is also home to one of the town’s mot popular ‘selfie’ spots – a giant bronze sculpture of a human head that stands prominently within its confines.
LOCATION Piazza Anfiteatro
2. The Incorruptible St. Zita
Resting peacefully in one of Lucca’s numerous churches is a morbid but fascinating artefact – the mummified body of a peasant girl saint, some 700-plus years after her death. The patron Saint of Lucca, aka Zita, remains on permanent display in a chapel inside San Frediano Church, where a regular stream of visitors come to give blessings to her divine form. This supposed divinity derives from her time as a servant, when she gained a cult following for her perceived ability to transform bread into flowers. As legend has it, when she died aged 60, the church bells spontaneously began to toll. Every year in April, citizens of Lucca bake bread and bring flowers to the church in honour of the saint, who is then brought out to be touched by the pious.
LOCATION San Frediano Church, Via Fillungo
3. Join a food tour
Lucca has a rich culinary heritage that can be explored on a number of foodie tours around the town and its surroundings. Many of these tours can be arranged via bookmundi.com, a company that let you book unique tours and experiences in destinations around the world. In Lucca, they offer a choice of three food-themed tours, all of which are designed to let you eat like local. Among the best are the Flavours of Lucca tour, where you can sample authentic regional treats such as Buccellato cake, while the Lucca Aperitivo Adventure tour offer a chance to try traditional bread, Pecorino cheese and cured ham, typically eaten as a precursor to a main meal in Italt. The tours are run by local english-speaking guides and the price usually includes drinks as well.
4. Guinigi Tower
Boasting an eye-catching red brick façade, this fortified medieval tower house was dates back to 1384 when it was built by Lucca’s ruling Guinigi family, and is perhaps the town’s best spot for enjoying elevated views. From its rooftop you can see the outlines of the three concentric city walls, the Roman center of town, and Lucca’s few remaining other towers houses in Lucca. But more than a mere viewing platform, the tower also features an ancient but delightful rooftop garden, accessible via a climb of 230 stairs, whose pristine appearance makes it an attraction in and of itself.
LOCATION Via Sant’Andrea HOURS 9.30am-4.30pm
5. International Festival of Comics and Games
Lucca may not be on the tip of everyone’s tongue when asked to name the world’s major comic heartlands, but each year the town plays host to one of the most important European events of its kind. Dating back to 1966, the International Festival of Comics and Games takes place at indoor and outdoor locations across the town and features hundreds of stands dedicated to comics, cartoons, games, video games and plenty more. Some of the town’s most historic buildings also open their doors to host concerts, live performances, and movie previews for the occasion. If you’re planning to visit and don’t want to look out of place, be sure to get into the spirit of things by dressing up as your favourite cartoon character.
LOCATION Venues across Lucca DATES 31st Oct – 4th Nov
6. The Aqueduct of Nottolini
This eye-catching 19th century structure once played a hugely important role in Lucca’s every day running, bringing water to the town via a stone channel supported by more than 400 arches. Located a 5-minute drive outside of Lucca, the landmark stretches for over 3 kilometres and its elegant neoclassical style attracts large numbers of curious visitors every year. The original idea for the aqueduct was actually conceived in the early 1700s, but only 150 years later did it come to fruition. The legacy of that great endeavour remains today, much to the delight of all who come to see it.
LOCATION Via Tempietto
7. Vinni Liquori Vanni
Italy’s reputation for wine needs no introduction, and in Lucca one of the best places for wine connoisseurs to visit is this quaint venue in the town centre. Wandering in may give a misleading impression of it being a common-or-garden eatery, but venture downstairs and you’ll soon discover its unique attraction – an expansive, cavernous cellar housing a jaw-dropping assortment of wines of different vintages. The staff here are as friendly as they are knowledgeable and will answer any questions you may have. Ask nicely and you’ll almost certainly get to sample some of the bottles, or even participate in a full-blown wine tasting session if you’re really lucky.
LOCATION Piazza San Salvatore 7