Lucca was founded by the Romans. In fact, the word Luk, where the name Lucca probably comes from, means ‘marsh’ in the language of the Liguri/Apuani, an old population that was co-existing with the Etruscans in the hills of Lucca. True to its name, Lucca sits on a wide plane of marshy land, an hour west of Florence and about half an hour east from the seaside town of Viareggio. It is most famous for its walls, first built in Roman times, and then two more times as the city expanded.

Lucca flourished under Roman rule, and its legacy is visible – of course – in the roads. The cardo maximus is the name given to the major north-south road in any Roman development, which you can see in Lucca in via Fillungo and via Cenami. Via Paolino and its extension to via Santa Croce form the major east-west road, known as the decumanus maximus. The Roman influence is still visible in the rectangular structure of the roads in the town centre.

It has a rich and colourful history including rivalries with other towns. It is rumoured that Lucchesi parents, until recently, would tell their children ‘Let’s go, the Pisans are coming!’ in order to scare them. You’ll find this gentle ribbing as the Lucchesi talk about their superiority not just to Pisa, but also to other local towns. 

While the Italy we know today is a Republic, it is still a relatively young country, having been unified in 1861 under King Victor Emanuel. This is relevant because it helps explain the rivalry between towns within Tuscany itself, as well as the history of the walls.

The walls were critically important as a defensive mechanism for Lucca, which unlike other parts of Tuscany, remained independent over the centuries. Lucca’s prosperity began with the silk trade in the 11th century. At this time Lucca had pledged allegiance to Rome, but was effectively independent and acted as the feudal capital of Tuscany.

Matilda of Tuscany was an important leader in this time, and one of only medieval women who was recognised for her military achievements. After her death in 1115, Lucca began to organise itself as an independent republic, a status it was able to retain for about 500 years. While the Medici family was reigning in Florence, it was the walls that helped protect the city when Cosimo de’ Medici declared war on Lucca after becoming head of the Medici family in 1429. By attacking Lucca, he invoked the wrath of the Milanese, who had spent the early 1400s conquering parts of what we now know as Tuscany. The war was unsuccessful and Cosimo was banished for 10 years.

Lucca remained – unlike the rest of Tuscany, independent, until it was conquered by Napoleon in 1805. He placed his sister Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi at the helm. Eventually Lucca became part of the Tuscan state and then part of the broader Italian republic.

Unlike nearby Pisa and Livorno which were subjected to bombing, Lucca remained intact after both World Wars, and although the fortifications around the walls were well-equipped, they were never employed in battle.

Lucca and Tuscany have a strong history of tobacco production and especially cigars, and the old tobacco factory in the centre (currently under redevelopment) is an important part of the city’s history, because the women who worked here – and they were all women – were some of the first to enter the labour force under conditions comparable to men, and were able to secure a kindergarten for their children to attend while they worked. No mean feat!

Composer Giacomo Puccini is a key figure in the modern and musical history of Lucca. Born into a generations-old Lucchese family, Puccini was famous not just as the second-most well-known composer of operas, behind Verdi, but also for his love of cigars and of Torre del Lago, a nearby town where he had a holiday house.

Today, Lucca is a vibrant town with a strong tourism sector. Visitors staying a few days have the chance to immerse themselves in one of the most charming and lesser-known parts of Italy. Lucca has dozens of historical churches as well as great food from street through to high cuisine, a fascinating history of independence and a contemporary arts and culture scene. Its proximity to Pisa, the north coast of Tuscany as well as the Apuan Alps mountain range make it the perfect base for exploring an undiscovered corner of the world.

Lucca is home to a thriving bar and restaurant scene. You’ll find traditional Tuscan fare like Tordelli, a delicious meat-filled ravioli-style pasta, on the menu, as well as wild boar, cinghiale, salted cod or baccala – often served fried, alongside more relaxed, trattoria-style food.

Gluten-free visitors can rejoice, as the ancient spelt grain forms the basis of many soups and salads in Lucca and other parts of Tuscany too. The use of chestnut flour, for example in pancakes, chickpea flour in cecina and beans in soups and salads is the norm. Vegetarians are well catered for too in this part of the world. Much of the traditional Tuscan cooking has simple origins, with a focus on fresh vegetables and grains.

With its humble origins, street food is big in Tuscany, especially the further you head towards the coast, and this influence touches Lucca too. The famous Cecina, (chickpea flatbread) and pizza by the slice are easy to find in the city centre. Foccacia sliced and filled with fresh or dried prosciutto is also a wonderful and readily available snack to tide you over to the next meal. Da Felice pizzeria is the most famous in Lucca, and a stroll down via Buia with a slice of Cecina  or Margherita is a must-do! While we’re talking casual or street dining, it’s worth mentioning that the historic walls are a great place for a picnic: there are plenty of tables in shady locations with views both over the city centre and out to the Lucca hills. A big Esselunga supermarket just outside the walls on Viale Carlo Del Prete will provide any picnic hardware, while you can pick up a panini or delicious deli food at one of the many gourmet food stores scattered throughout Lucca.

Many restaurants are only open for dinner, so it’s worth doing a little bit of research and making a few bookings! La Buca di Sant’Antonio, Ristorante Giglio and Cantine Bernadini Lucca offer traditional Italian cuisine, and if you’re in search of a great lunch spot, Trattoria Gigi will hit the spot, with Lucchese classics, cutlery served in old tomato tins and great desserts.  For a real treat, book well in advance at Da Pasquale and you won’t be disappointed – this is one of the most popular restaurants with the locals and the wine list is extensive (the owner is a sommelier!)  

If gelato is your thing, you’re in luck: there are more than a dozen shops serving up the traditional treat. Our tip? Stick to classic flavours like pistachio, hazelnut (nocciola), or chocolate (cioccolata). For the more adventurous, head to our favourite Gelateria De’Coltelli for a selection of artisanal and authentic flavours.  We love the ginger!  

A relatively new spot, Da Ciacco overlooking Piazza Napoleone is fast developing a reputation for having the best panini in town, as well as excellent aperitivoOther great local places for a relaxed aperitivo are Guzman, Franklin 33 and Puntino. If you prefer people watching, grab a table outdoors at Bistrot e Winebar Des Arts.  And if you tire of the wonderful Italian fare on offer, restaurants like L’imbuto, with its degustation menu that changes every night, showcase the best of contemporary, world-class dining.  Osteria Miranda also offers a contemporary menu and the ambience is divine! There are endless options for all dietary requirements and tastes, so please get in touch with us to discuss your needs, or we can do this as part of booking your tour.

Lucca Summer Music Festival

For a little city, Lucca has a lot on! Its most famous event, the annual Lucca Summer Festival, has brought some of the world’s most respected and famous artists including the likes of Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, James Taylor, Tom Petty, Van Morrison, Tom Jones and many, many more to perform right in the heart of the city over the last two decades. This event alone draws thousands of tourists in to the city for their first visit. Inevitably, they fall in love and come back another time.

Lucca is also the birthplace of opera composer Giacomo Puccini, who has been called the greatest Italian opera writer after Verdi. Famous for La Boheme, Turandot, Madama Butterfly and Tosca, he come from a family of Lucchese musicians. Various members of his family even held the position of maestro di cappella (orchestra leader) at the San Martino Cathedral for 124 years. There is a dedicated Puccini Museum in the centre of Lucca and a Puccini Festival at Torre del Lago, close to Viareggio, in July and August each year.

There are dozens of concerts on in churches all through summer, either for a minimal cost, or even free. An outdoor cinema runs over the summer months, and we would be more than happy to help you out with details if you’re interested in these.

If you stumble unprepared into Lucca in the last week of October, you’d be forgiven for being confused, and perhaps a little alarmed. Held annually, Lucca Comics is the biggest gaming and comic book festival in Europe, and the second largest in the world behind Japan’s Comiket. The city is truly transformed during Comics, with tents going up on the city’s historic walls, the number of people in town swelling to up to nearly 300,000 – and of course people dressed as cartoon characters gracing the city’s streets. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!

Looking outside Lucca, the famous Viareggio Carnevale is a highlight in winter, bringing colour, costume and often outlandish floats and displays to town. A 30-min drive or train ride away, this is well worth checking out if you are in town in February.

In terms of landmarks, the Torre Guinigi, on via Sant’Andrea in the city centre, affords a beautiful view of the city’s rooftops. It’s a reasonable climb to the top of the 44.5m tower, but the views are worth the effort, and there’s a gorgeous rooftop garden. Built in the 14th century by the powerful Guinigi family, it was one of hundreds of similar towers, but today is the only one still standing. There are dozens of other fascinating historical buildings and landmarks in the compact city centre alone, including the famous Piazza dell’ Anfiteatro, which dates back to the first or second century BC. At its peak, it held up to 10,000 spectators. The Chiesa di San Michele in Foro is famous for its stunning façade with angel on top. This spot was the site of the public forum and the centre of life in ancient times. There are plenty of other gorgeous, sacred and hidden places right in the centre of Lucca.

We can help tailor packages around these events or landmarks, or give advice on the best places to stay if there’s something you’re especially interested in doing. Just let us know!

Pisa

Italy has more UNESCO World Heritage listed sites than any other country in the world, so you know when you visit you’re in for something special. Tuscany itself is world-famous, and we would be thrilled to help you discover not just Lucca but some of the more special parts of life outside the city walls.

That means that when you get tired of food, wine, history and culture, there are incredible mountains, forests and natural wonders to explore.

With Torre di Lago, the beloved summer home of composer Giacomo Puccini close by, as well as mountains and sea only half an hour’s drive away, there are plenty of options. Pisa and its leaning tower make a great day trip with Lucca as a base, or if the seaside is your thing, the beaches along the promenade on Viareggio, the ‘Pearl of the Tyrrhenian’.

There are plenty of other coastal towns dotted along the strip that leads up into Liguria and the Cinque Terre, including glamorous Forte dei Marmi, the artist’s town of Pietrasanta, Massa, famous for its marble, and Lido di Camaiore, a close neighbour to Viareggio itself.

The majority of the beaches are private, which means you will need to pay for an umbrella space in summer, although there are some lovely public sections at La Lecciona, south of the Viareggio Port. Another option is to hire a bike and ride from Viareggio north to Forte dei Marmi, which makes sense as parking is very limited during the summer months.  Forte dei Marmi also has a flea market every Wednesday from 8am – 1:30pm. 

Pisa is about half an hour away from Lucca by train, and is also home to the closest international airport, with a surprisingly large number of direct flight coming in from overseas hubs. While the Piazza dei Miracoli is a must-see, it is also worthwhile wandering through the streets to the right of the piazza and into the city centre itself. University of Pisa buildings are sprawled nearby and the bridge over the Arno River, the same river that runs through Florence, provides a similar aspect.

If you’re looking for a more than a walk around the walls of town, we can hook you up with hiking and biking in the nearby mountains too. Whatever your preference we’ll be able to tailor something for you.

Artisan Basket Maker in Lucca

Shopping in Lucca is an absolute joy. You’ll find handmade, artisan products on every street, with small, often family-run stores, lining the ancient cobblestone streets. This kind of casual relaxed approach reflects both the lifestyle of the city, as well as the care with which products are crafted. You’ll find shopkeepers happy to spend time with you to help you learn about their wares. This is the antidote to big malls and shopping centres!

From gorgeous leather goods, shoes and stationery, to antiques and high fashion, to markets, there is something for everyone.

The history of the silk trade is strong here, including from the Guinigi family (whose namesake Torre Guinigi affords fabulous views of the city). Goldsmiths too form part of the traditional trades, and you’ll see that legacy living on.

Via Fillungo is the place to start. Before you even get inside you’ll be dazzled by the shopfronts, some of which are decades old and bear the names of previous tenants. This is your street for jewels, leather, fashion and even some outlet stores if you’re looking for a designer bargain.

Close to Fillungo is the Piazza dell’Anfiteatro. Don’t miss Le Sorelle, a gorgeous store set inside the piazza, which sells a collection of bespoke handbags, homewares and body products.

Via San Paolino is a good spot for more accessible fashion and leather and hosts incredible bakeries too and markets are held in Piazzale Don Baroni, outside the walls on Wednesdays and Saturdays, starting early in the morning.

Please remember shops are generally open in the morning until 1pm, with a break for a couple of hours, before re-opening for the afternoon and closing later in the evening. Most Italians take holidays in August, so stores may be closed for periods during that month too.

We are more than happy to recommend our favourite shops, help you find a special gift for yourself or someone else, or even organise a half or full-day tour as part of your time in Lucca.