A guide to Lucca

After two weeks, and many, many hours spent wandering aimlessly around the small streets of Lucca, I was pretty confident that I had covered as much ground as possible. And yet, somehow, on our way to the train station on our last day, we turned a corner and came face-to-face with a church I’d never seen before. Lucca is magical like that. There was one church I seemed only able to find at night.

It’s a small and touristy city (especially popular among Brits it seemed), where you can really settle into a leisurely pace, enjoying good food, long walks, and the beautiful Tuscan countryside. Lucca is also a great home base for visitors who want easy day trips to Florence and Pisa.

This is the best of what we did, and where we ate, while in Lucca:

ATTRACTIONS

San Frediano Basilica

Especially beautiful in the evening when the gold in the mosaic glows against the white marble. Founded in the 500s, this is one of the oldest churches in the city – although the distinctive Byzantine mosaic is from the 13th century. The restaurants and bars on this square were some of the best we tried on our trip.

Chiesa di San Michele in Foro

It’s elaborate 13th century sculpture-laden facade makes this church possibly the most breathtaking one in the ‘city of a hundred churches’. It dominates a large piazza near popular shopping streets, so it’s pretty impossible to avoid!

Guinigi Tower

The best time to climb the 232 steps of this medieval tower has to be just before closing time, so you can watch the sun set over Lucca. The views are wonderful on all sides, and you can enjoy them from under the branches of the oak trees that grow atop the tower.

Pucchini museum

A modest museum, this is a must-visit for opera lovers. The home where Pucchini was born, the rooms he lived in as a child now pay homage to his life’s work. It’s thrilling to see his handwriting on letters and scrawled notes covering compositions, alongside photos, a few costumes, and lots of posters and playbills.

Piazza dell’Anfiteatro

This Roman amphitheater is now a central tourist spot in Lucca. Surrounded by restaurants, it isn’t the best food in the city, but the atmosphere is delightful. Musicians frequently perform, and the open area is ideal for people watching.

Under the Walls (Sortie San Paolino)

You can find the entrance to the Under the Walls art exhibit down a nondescript street leading out of Lucca. Ducking into the tunnel, you find yourself under the walls in a cavernous space. It’s beautifully lit and holds a few sculptures that are appropriately larger than life. It’s free and a quick visit – definitely worth checking out during a visit to Lucca.

On top of the Walls!

I think this might be the most beautiful part of an idyllic city. The ancient walls surrounding Lucca are now home to a path running the circumference of the city. A perfect spot for cyclists, runners, and for a dog walk with country views.

RESTAURANTS

Bar S. Frediano

Great lunch spot. Casual and less touristy than some of the other spots. Classic, satisfying dishes like this spaghetti al pesto. Beautiful view as it’s right next to the San Frediano Basilica.

Caffè Biscotteria Santa Zita

A perfect (and very friendly) aperitivo caffe. Cocktails come served in proper, heavy glassware and whether you get a simple spritz or a more complex drink, it comes with a tray of olives, nuts, and potato chips. Feels old fashioned, and also overlooking San Frediano Basilica.

Osteria Via S. Giorgio

We split a ravioli dish to start, and instantly regretted not getting individual dishes – it was delicious. The steak we ordered as our second course was simple but perfect. Nice outdoor seating.

Ristorante Cantine Bernardini Lucca

On a quiet street in Lucca, this Osteria is a special spot. We were greeted with Prosecco, on the house, and everything we ordered was delicious. Started with a zucchini flan, then the regional specialty, meat ravioli. Very friendly service and a lovely atmosphere.

Trattoria da Giulio

Feels like a classic spot; photos of Italian celebrities who have visited greet you by the door, and the walls of the dining room are decorated with old documents and posters. A bit out of the way, it’s proximity to the walls means you can end your meal with a refreshing evening stroll. I had the panzanella (one of my favorite dishes of the trip), cod with leeks, and panna cotta for dessert.

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