One Day in Lucca: What to See and Do in the Home of Puccini

One Day in LuccaIf 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.

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Walk or Bike Lucca’s Citadel Walls

One Day in Lucca Citadel WallsThere 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.

One Day in Lucca - Relaxing

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.

One Day in Lucca Bike Hire

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

One Day in Lucca Cathedral Tower

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

One Day in Lucca

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.

One Day in Lucca

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.

One Day in 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.

One Day in Lucca

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).

One Day in Lucca Puccini

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.

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Useful Information

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.

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One Day in Lucca

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Article written by

Jo Fitzsimons is a freelance travel writer who has visited over 60 countries. www.indianajo.com is the place where she shares destination details, travel itineraries, planning and booking tips and trip tales. Her aim: to help you plan your travel adventure on your terms and to your budget.

11 Responses

  1. Jolene n.
    Jolene n. at | | Reply

    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

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  5. some suggestions
    some suggestions at | | Reply

    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)

  6. Richie
    Richie at | | Reply

    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

  7. Hafsa
    Hafsa at | | Reply

    Hello,

    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 ?

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