If you’re planning a trip to Tuscany, then you should spend one day in Lucca.
A small city that sits just north of Pisa (and is incredibly easy to reach by train), Lucca lacks the crowds that throng the leaning tower, the coach and cruise loads that plague Florence, and offers an all-round gentler pace for enjoying Tuscan life.
The historic part of the city is contained within impressively intact city walls which stretch for kilometres providing a thick skirt around Lucca’s centre. Down below, a small but perfectly formed criss-cross of streets sprawl out to the four corners of the city walls connecting one picturesque piazza to another by way of cobbled streets that are the very stereotype of Italian life.
In Lucca a chilled-out café culture by day folds itself nicely into the restaurant and bar scene by night, but, most impressive of all, and as you might expect from the place where world-famous opera composer Puccini was born, world-class musical events await.
In pictures, here is how I would recommend spending one day in Lucca.
Walk or Bike Lucca’s Citadel Walls
There are so many good reasons to take a trip around Lucca’s city walls. Not only are they one of the most intact in Italy, they are quite unlike any other city walls I’ve ever walked. The walls are wide, well-kept and filled with green spaces, parks, picnic benches, bike paths and locals playing board games in the shade of the trees while the Apuane Alps provide a beautiful backdrop.
The sum of these parts make Lucca’s city walls a destination in their own right. Built in the 16th and 17th centuries, they hold history, yet today remain an integral part of the city’s modern, daily life. Relax, take a stroll (or enjoy an elevated bike ride – there are plenty of bike hire shops in the city below) and simply let Tuscan tranquility take hold.
To get to the ancient part of the city from the train station you will need to pass the walls, so it makes good sense to walk the walls first, not least to get an overview of the layout of the main sights below.
A complete circuit of the wall is 4km and at a leisurely walking pace takes about 1 hr.
A bike trip will obviously take less time, though I saw many cyclists whizzing past many of the finer sights, so if you do go on wheels, take some time to stop to really enjoy the beauty that surrounds the walls.
Take water and a picnic. There are not too many spots to buy food or drink on the walls. There is a Spa shop in the city but is at the opposite side from where you land on the wall from the station. As I took a day trip from Pisa, I brought my picnic with me.
Cattedrale de San Marino
I know, I know, another Italian church in another Italian city, but seeing as you’re already here, this (free entry) church is both old (11th century) and has a stunning fascia, but the main highlights lies inside.
The Volto Santo (meaning Holy Countenance) is a life-size wooden carving of Jesus on the cross and it was once thought this piece was crafted by Nicodemus, a witness to the crucifixion. Modern science has dated the piece centuries later, but staring into the dark of the wood carving, I could see why so many thought it came from visions of an earlier time. Sorry, I have no image of the carving as photographs are not permitted.
Church of San Michele in Foro
While San Marino Cathedral may be the first sight you stumble on after a complete circuit of the walls (or if you’re coming straight from the station), the Church of San Michele seemed to me to be the much more stunning vision. Tiered, grand and showing-off in every way, this church was apparently designed to look good from every angle.
The interior is disappointing by comparison but free and cooler than the outside air so therefore worth a stop.
Listen to Puccini performed at Puccini e la sua Lucca
One of the purposes of my trip to Lucca was to listen to some opera in the city where Puccini was born and I fulfilled that wish.
Puccini e la sua Lucca is the only festival dedicated to Giacomo Puccini in the place of his birth and also claims the title as the only permanent festival in the world. As such, there are tickets available most of the time (especially during summer, when concerts are held nightly).
Located in one of the city’s churches, there is a different program each night performed by top shelf operatic singers. When I visited, there was an evening of Mozart and Puccini, which included performances from La Boheme, Madam Butterfly and Tosca (Puccini) and Le Nozze di Figardo (Mozart) amongst others.
I’m no opera buff, but for 20 euros, it was a wonderful way to enjoy the musical spirit of the city of Lucca.
The church where the recital took place was small and intimate (no more than 70 people) with ear shattering acoustics (in a good way). During my visit the church was different from the usual home due to the Summer Festival that was going on.
The performers were impressive, particularly the male singer, who received a standing ovation from the audience more than once (including from myself, and I’m not prone to such over excitement).
Although it started on Italian time (late), it lasted just over an hour and was a great experience even if you are not familiar with the detail of Puccini’s work. I did overhear one man complain that he ‘didn’t understand a word’ – obviously the performances are in Italian, but the singers do a great job of conveying the drama and emotion of the pieces so it doesn’t matter that you don’t understand the words. I once attended the opera in Verona, which cost much, much more than this recital and I’d say I found this experience much more enjoyable.
Lucca Travel Tips:
Getting there from Pisa: Take the train from Pisa Centrale to Lucca (direct). Cost 3.20 euros one-way.
Unless you stay in Lucca, note that the last train back to Pisa departs just after 9pm.
There is plenty of accommodation in Lucca including a hostel, but as I didn’t stay there, I can’t comment directly.
If you book the opera online (you can do this on the day you want to go), you save 10% of the ticket price.
More information and to book: Puccini e La Sua Lucca.
Planning a longer trip to Italy? You might be interested some of my other posts:
- 10 Things NOT To Do In Venice (And 10 TO DO Instead)
- Best Restaurants In Venice – Tried & Tested
- Venice Travel Tips For First Time Visitors
- 40 Things To Do In Milan (That Aren’t Churches)
- One Day in Pisa
- 3 Days in Florence: The Itinerary I Give My Friends
- Where to Go in Sardinia – Self-Drive Itinerary
- How to Plan Your Own Prosecco Tour in Italy
- How to Order Coffee in Italy
- Is Naples Safe? The Answer From Someone Who’s Been
- Regional Food In Puglia: What and Where to Eat
- The Only Packing List You’ll Ever Need (with printable checklist)
- 15 Long Haul Flight Essentials: What to Take Onboard
- Travel Insurance: Don’t get Screwed by the Small Print
- 101 Tips for Cheap Flights
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8 thoughts on “How To Spend One Day in Lucca – Italy”
We are going to be in Tuscany for a week in February 2019. Specifically cetona…we will be driving from there north on Saturday ..our hotel for Saturday night is in Florence. Is it possible to knock out lucca and/or Pisa before we go to Florence to sleep or should we do just one and then train it from Florence to the other one during one of our next 3 days in Florence? Enjoyed reading what you have posted on these 3 cities. Thanks Jolene
I Jolene, I’ve replied to your similar comment in my other post 🙂
well, sorry to say, the puccini’s festival is tourist trap for foreign tourists (did you notice that the 99% of ppl weren’t locals?), i live in lucca and i know how does it work…
anyway, you forgot to visit some decents sites like (search for them on google images pls):
– palazzo Mansi, the national museum, a sort of small Versailles (residence of Elisa Bonaparte, aka Napoleon’s sister during her ruling of Lucca’s republic)
– the Amphitheatre square of Lucca
– palazzo Pfanner, where Jane Champion filmed some scenes of “Portrait of a lady” with Nicole Kidman
– Guinigi’s tower, a typical middle age tower with some trees on top (google for the story behind that)
Thanks for those suggestions!!! I really must get back to Lucca. I know the Puccini festival is touristy but sometimes we tourists like to do touristy things (Italian opera filled with locals was a little intimidating as a first intro but one I’d love to try next). Thanks again for the tips 🙂
Forget France! I’m an Irishman who has travelled fairly extensively in France. Italy equals better food, much friendlier people, better weather, cheaper and equally as good, if not better sights! It’s a no brained! Richie
Richie, I LOVE Italy, but I’m a huge fan of France and the food too – the French win on the cheese front and you can’t know the wine. Fortunately it’s not an either or situation and I’m lucky enough to be able to visit both. But if I had to decide….that would be difficult!
reading your blog make me want to cut down my number of days in paris and spent more in italy. we are planning the paris-italy trip in feb 2015, i read the wheather will still be cold.. have you been in italy for winter? how is it really like ?
we plan to spend 3 night each in florence and rome but personally i more incline to spend more days in florence, even month…but time does not permit.
do you think lucca and pisa can be done in 1 day in winter weather ? or should i just cut 1 night in rome and spent more in florence ?
Hi Hfsa, sorry for the slow reply – I’ve been on the road in Colombia in some pretty slow wi-fi areas. Oooh, tough one. I love both Paris and Italy so I’d find it hard to take from one and give to the other 🙂 I’ve been to Italy in November and Paris in October and although not the grasps of winter, both were fine…though it’s relative. I’m from England and both places were about the same or warmer than home. I think with a good winter coat and hat, scarf and gloves, you’ll be fine. On the major plus side, there will be a lot less people (unless you’re heading there for Christmas or New Year). Both Lucca and Pisa can definitely be done in one day in winter. I don’t see the itinerary would change except that you’d enjoy your pizza inside instead of on a patio. Pack an umbrella and you shouldn’t have a problem. Hope you have a great trip. Come back and let me know how you get on.