In a region blessed with several charming towns and cities, Lucca is up there with the most cherished, thanks in large part to the multitude of unique things to see and do.
A popular day-trip from nearby Florence, the historic town on the Serchio river is awash with ancient sites and landmarks dating back to the Roman empire, as well as some beautiful, well-preserved cathedrals. Indeed, 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 12 Lucca attractions you won’t find anywhere else.
Discover a bustling piazza
Built on the ruins of an ancient Roman ampitheatre, the perpetually lively plaza of Piazza dell’Anfiteatro is one of Lucca’s most popular meeting points. Yet where today you’ll find the genteel presence of shops and restaurants, several centuries ago it was instead the stage for frequent 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.
Step back in time at a Renaissance palazzo
One of Luca’s most impressive landmarks is the beautiful Villa Reale di Marlia, featuring unique architecture and more than 16 hectares of lush, pristinely-maintained gardens spanning different eras. The beautiful villa and its surroundings are open to the public, who can immerse themselves in the historic setting, both indoors and out, complete with perfumed olfactory path, two theatres, and elegant Clock House with a panoramic loggia. Children can also embark on a botanical treasure hunt using a free app.
Via Fraga Alta, 2 / Sat-Thurs 10am-6pm Closed Fri
Visit the resting place of a saint
Resting peacefully in one of Lucca’s numerous churches is the mummified body of the patron Saint of Lucca, some 700 years after her death. The Incorruptible St. 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.
San Frediano Church, Via Fillungo
Join a fascinating food tour
Lucca has a rich culinary heritage that can be explored on a number of food tours around the town and its surroundings, all of which are designed to let you eat like local. Among the most popular is 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.
Ascend an ancient tower
Boasting an eye-catching red brick façade, the fortified medieval Guinigi Tower 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.
Via Sant’Andrea / Mon-Fri 10am-6.30pm Sat-Sun 10am-7.30pm
Traverse the city walls on a walking tour
Built during the Renaissance era, the Walls of Lucca are leading example of Italian fortification and a unique example of European city planning and architecture. Visitors can explore them and their restored interiors by joining a Renaissance City Walls walking tour. During the two-hour guided tour, you’ll visit the interior of the bastions, discover the immense brick vaults of the galleries, and navigate the large public park that surrounds them, while your guide regales you with stories about the evolution of military engineering in Italy from the 13th to the 17th centuries.
Attend an internationally acclaimed comic festival
Lucca may not be on the tip of everyone’s tongue when asked to name the world’s 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 locations across the town and features hundreds of stands dedicated to comics, cartoons, games, video games and more. Some of the town’s most historic buildings also open their doors to host concerts, live performances, and movie previews for the occasion. Many visitors get into the spirit of things by dressing up as their favourite cartoon character.
Venues across Lucca / Last weekend of October each year
Marvel at a 19th-century aqueduct
Th eye-catching 19th century structure known as the Aqueduct of Nottolini 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 five-minute drive outside of Lucca, the landmark stretches for over three 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.
Take in the melodies of a master of opera
Lucca-born Giacomo Puccini is widely considered one of the finest proponents of Italian opera who ever lived, and visitors to the town can discover his rich legacy by attending the Puccini Festival created in his honour. Taking place each summer in the stunning 2,200-year-old Church of San Giovanni, every evening the festival hosts professional singers (including a soprano and tenor) who perform famous melodies from the master of opera, complete with interpreters and magnificent acoustics. The festival is designed to be inclusive for everyone, from opera beginners to experts.
Church of San Giovanni / July-August each year
Sample some vintage wines
Italy’s reputation for wine needs no introduction, and in Lucca one of the best places for wine connoisseurs to visit is Vinni Liquori Vanni. Situated in the town centre, those who wander in may gain 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.
Piazza San Salvatore 7