It took about two minutes for me to fall in love with Lucca.
Maybe it was the amazing pasta fresca I had already enjoyed a few bites of that morning at the Mercato Centrale, the leftovers of which were sitting patiently on my tray table as I looked forward to digging into the rest of it for lunch.
Maybe it was the friendly couple we met on the train and spent the majority of the ride easily chatting with – something I do so rarely at home.
Maybe it was the cloudless blue sky and the feeling of giddy excitement to be somewhere brand new with no plans but to wander aimlessly and enjoy.
Maybe it was a little bit of all three.
While I could easily see spending longer than a day in beautiful Lucca, I was happy to have the opportunity to experience this pretty little city for even a few hours.
Taking a day trip to Lucca? Here are a few sights to add to your list.
The City Walls
Lucca’s historic center is completely enclosed by well-preserved 16th and 17th-century ramparts.
Lucca’s train station is located just outside the city walls. We walked about five minutes from the station to the San Colombano Bulwark to access the walled part of the city and start our walk along the ramparts, referred to by locals as the passeggiata alle mura.
The wide pathway on top of the walls has become a focal feature of the city and is popular for biking, running and walking. For visitors, it’s the perfect spot to enjoy views of the city’s architecture from an elevated vantage point.
A full loop around the walls is 2.6 miles. Every so often there’s a pathway leading up from/down to town.
We had the luck of visiting on a lovely, sunny day. After the hustle of Florence, I felt an almost instant sense of calm as we made our unhurried way along the walls, stopping along the way to have a picnic lunch. I can’t imagine a much more peaceful and enjoyable introduction to a new place!
Basilica of San Frediano
After walking about halfway around the walls, we decided to head down to street level and do some exploring there. One of the first sights we came upon was the Basilica of San Frediano. The church’s otherwise minimalist facade is topped by a beautifully detailed 13th-century mosaic.
Our next stop was the Piazza dell’Anfiteatro, another trademark of Lucca. The yellow-hued buildings form the shape of an oval instead of the more traditional quadrilateral form a piazza often takes.
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Torre Guinigi (Guinigi Tower)
The unique Guinigi Tower is easily recognizable due to the cluster of oak trees sprouting from its top. The structure was built by the Guinigi Family in the 14th century. During that time, it was standard practice for wealthy families to erect towers in addition to their palaces as a symbol of their prosperity and for their personal surveillance needs.
Today you can pay a few euro to climb the 230 stairs to the top and enjoy 360-degree views of Lucca and the surrounding countryside. If you get tired on the way up, just be thankful that the stairs are now inside – the original steps were attached to the tower’s exterior!
L’arte sa nuotare
If you spend time in Florence, you may notice pieces of street art dotted around the city with a few notable shared characteristics: famous icons, such as Van Gogh, David, the Mona Lisa, and Abraham Lincoln, dressed up in swimming goggles and positioned on a bright blue background with bubbles as though they’re underwater.
These pieces were created by the anonymous Italian artist who goes by the alias of Blub. They’re part of the artist’s “l’arte sa nuotare” or “art knows how to swim” collection.
I hadn’t heard of these pieces before visiting Florence and then I happened to see one in Lucca. As with many pieces of street art I encounter in new places, learning more about it afterward has been so interesting!
By placing both historic and present-day icons “underwater,” Blub is playing with themes of being presented with challenges and working to display the resilience and resourcefulness to see your way through them; but ultimately, Blue leaves it to the viewer to determine what the art means to them on their own.
The one I saw in Lucca, pictured above, is inspired by Amedeo Modigliani’s painting of Lunia Czechowska.
Have you seen any of Blub’s pieces? Let me know in the Comments section below!
Via Fillungo is the historic center’s main street. It’s the perfect place to window shop, people watch and find a charming cafe to duck into before your next stop.
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Don’t forget to look up!
Torre Delle Ore (Clock Tower)
We didn’t visit this tower, located on Via Fillungo, but it’s another option for getting views of Lucca from above. If you’d like to climb it and the Guinigi Tower, you can buy a dual ticket.
Piazza San Michele
While I was enamored with the Via della Mura Urbane running along the top of the city’s ramparts, another favorite part of our visit was relaxing in the Piazza San Michele. I was immediately struck by how incredibly beautiful this square was. As an added bonus, we spent time watching an especially dedicated couple tend to their impressive array of balcony plants.
Chiesa di San Michele in Foro
You’ll find this intricate church, dating back to the city’s ancient Roman roots, in the Piazza San Michele. We didn’t go inside, but I loved the detailed exterior.
We came upon this piazza shortly after visiting Piazza San Michele. I loved the small glimpses into daily life in Lucca that we were able to enjoy here.
La Bottega del Gelato
We made a conscious effort in Italy to eat gelato at least once a day – if not more! La Bottega del Gelato was a perfectly sweet pit stop on our leisurely walk back to the train station.
Before our trip, we listened to a Rick Steves podcast about all things gelato, including how to spot the best shops in the sea of options you’ll be presented with. Before listening to it, I had assumed you really couldn’t go wrong; but in a country as revered for its cuisine as Italy, I should have known there would be more to it than that.
One of the main points from the podcast is that it’s more promising if you find a gelateria with a basic display of lidded metal containers as opposed to mountainous open displays of vibrantly colored options. This may seem counterintuitive, but is actually a sign of higher quality. Discreet lidded containers show that the shop is carefully storing the gelato at the ideal temperature, and that they’re not counting on flashy displays – often so impressively colored due to artificial additives – to sell their product.
You might expect Lucca’s duomo to be prominently situated in one of the city’s more central and busy squares, but you’ll actually find it in the quiet and seemingly off-the-beaten-path location of Piazza San Martino.
The dimensions are slightly uneven, with one side of the facade narrower than the other. This is due to making the design work with the preexisting campanile, or bell tower, that you can see a glimpse of in the photo below.
The Birthplace of Puccini
World-renowned opera composer Giacomo Puccini was born in Lucca. The home where he grew up is now a museum dedicated to his legacy. We didn’t visit while we were there – we were likely too busy sunning ourselves in the Piazza San Michele – but this could be a great option for music lovers. Every Friday at noon from June to September, a free guided tour in English is included in your ticket price.
Getting to Lucca
There are a variety of train options to get from Florence to Lucca, but the best option is direct, takes an hour and 19 minutes, and costs around 8 euro. It’s also easily reachable from La Spezia (the transportation hub near Cinque Terre), Livorno, and Pisa.
While planning our trip to Italy, I knew we’d predominantly be traveling by train. I used the Trenitalia website to get a general idea of availability, routes and pricing. To allow ourselves flexibility, I didn’t want to buy anything in advance and lock us into specific times. Unfortunately I didn’t realize that in some cases, tickets are priced much higher when you buy them last minute. This was a major bummer when we arrived in Milan after an overnight flight and immediately paid more than twice what we were expecting to for our tickets to Venice.
Avoiding higher rates:
Depending on the train, some rates stay the same whether you buy tickets months in advance or on the same day, while others get much more expensive when you buy them last minute. When you’re looking online, the price of Regionale trains will likely not fluctuate, while the Frecciarossa and Eurocity trains will get more expensive if you wait.
Often times there are both Frecciarossa and Regionale options for the same trip, but the Regionale option is likely to take longer and involve train changes. (We could have paid less to take a regional train from Milan to Venice, but it left later in the afternoon, took an additional hour and involved a stopover.)
More often than not, the Frecciarossa routes that get more expensive are for longer journeys, whereas shorter journeys are likely to have a set price. We bought our ticket from Florence to Lucca – a shorter regional route – about 15 minutes before getting on the train, and the rate was the same as it would have been had we bought it in advance.
My advice would be: leave the shorter trips open ended to allow yourself flexibility for day trips, but look in advance to see if you can save yourself money by booking early on some of your longer journeys.
There’s also the option of utilizing Italo trains (run by a private company) instead of Trenitalia (the primary government-run train operator). From glancing at their website, it’s also a good idea to book in advance for many Italo journeys.
Have you been to Lucca? What did you think? What other day trips from Florence would you recommend? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below – I’d love to hear them.
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I’m sharing this post to one of my favorite blog link-ups: the Faraway Files, with Fifi + Hop, Hilary Style, Oregon Girl Around the World, and Suitcases and Sandcastles. Follow the links to check out their sites!