After our visit to Pisa we all headed off to Lucca, a small Tuscan town located 18km from Pisa and 77km from Florence, that is beautiful walled city with plenty of charm.
I had hoped we would walk the wall as this was my lasting memory of our previous visit to this pretty city and I had read how great it was to do with kids, but the temperature in Lucca was even higher and we arrived at midday so we changed plans and discovered a different part of the city than on our first visit.
Traveling with kids = flexible.
Traveling as a family of 4 = compromise!
After finding a paid parking area just inside the city wall, we set off to explore and discovered it was much larger than I had recalled with lots of winding narrow lanes to get lost in!
This is a city full of art and beauty, with local life being lived in the cafes and restaurants surrounding the tree lined piazzas.
Main Sites to see in Lucca
We first found Piazza Napoleon (also called Piazza Grande) which is lined with leafy plane trees and a favourite with local families who love to congregate here – so great for people watching! This is an elegant, large square that is very child-friendly as it is closed to cars and there is plenty of space to run around, there are always plenty of street performers to keep the kids entertained and at Christmas time it is turned into an ice-rink! How enchanting that must be!
We walked on to San Michele in Foro cathedral. The imposing white facade and bell tower standing out amidst the ochre buildings of the city. Gothic and Romanesque in style, the church has one of the most beautiful and elaborate facades in the whole of Italy with multi-coloured marbles from the local area making this a must-see.
The church dates back to the XII century, but the existence of ‘a church’ in this location is documented since 795 A.D. when it offered solace to the pilgrims doing the via Francigena, that crosses this area.
This was to be our kids first visit to a cathedral and the interior really blew them away. It’s a triumph of light and dark, filled with candlelit corners, impressive colonnades and several art masterpieces.
There are 4 levels of colonnades carved in white marble and each of the levels is decorated with a plethora of sculpted creatures, leaves, and human heads!
The art collecting includes the tomb of Ilaria del Carretto by Jacopo Della Quercia, a Madonna by Ghirlandaio and the wooden crucifix called the Holy Face, said to be carved by Nicodemus, disciple of Christ.
The Church of San Michele in Foro is truly impressive (and even comes complete with a fascinating dead saint on display!) It is surely one of the top things to see in Lucca even if you only have a small time in the city. Entrance is free and you can pick up a pamphlet explaining each work of art at the entrance to the church.
We then meandered through the cobblestone lanes browsing in a few of the gorgeous boutique shops. Lucca has some amazing shops and if you’re a keen shopper then you will love Via Fillungo where you can find beautiful Italian leather goods and delicious deli’s stocking Italian delicacies such as the local specialty: buccellato!
After stopping off for a slice of pizza, to the famous circular Piazza dell’Anfiteatro (the amphitheatre square). This impressive piazza is probably one of the most recognisable sites in Lucca and, as the name suggests, the square was built as a Roman amphitheatre and, over time, became one the centre of municipal life.
Nowadays, this elliptical square is a well-preserved space filled with cafes, restaurants and accommodation options and a fantastic place to relax and let little kids run riot for a while! Like many other parts of town, the square is closed to traffic and can only be entered on foot or by bike.
Finally we decided to climb the “tower with the tree at the top”, otherwise known as Torre Guinigi. Like any Tuscan walled city, Lucca has some impressive towers, the most famous of all being this one due to its’ unique garden – located on the top of the tower! This unusual garden can be visited for a fee and is a really great place to take kids for the unique experience of finding a tree at the top, but also for the panoramic views.
On the way up you can get to know more about the fascinating history of the Guinigi family who commissioned the garden to symbolize the new blossoming of the town under their rule. We discovered that the tower was very high and there are no shortcuts to the top – just pure leg work up the endless staircase – an intense thigh workout indeed! This was a new experience for us all and that made it really special.
Another tower option is Torre della Ore which is slightly less popular and busy than Torre Guinigi plus you get the added bonus of having view OF Torre Guinigi. Torre della Ore is taller and more central in the old town. The views from up top were excellent, with all the tiled rooftops, the towers, and the mountains in the background.
The most striking characteristics of Lucca are the bastions that still surround the city. The pathway is beautiful, with trees arching over head providing ample shade and the raised vantage point offering views of the historical city and some very striking buildings along the way. There are plenty of playgrounds and green spaces perfect for a picnic on a sunny day.
What makes them extra special is that they have been transformed into a cycling path and taking a ride around the city takes on a whole new meaning! Cycling the walls is popular with locals and tourists alike and is a real pleasure. We didn’t manage to do this activity on our visit, but don’t miss out and pre-book bikes for a self guided tour of the city online here. The entire 4km circuit will take you around 25 minutes.
Lucca cathedral is called San Martino and is located immediately outside the main tourists paths, in a quiet part of the otherwise busy city centre. The church is not far from Lucca train station and an enjoyable way to reach it is from the city walls.
The city has one important art gallery, Pinacoteca Nazionale, which is worth a visit if you spend more than a day in the town.
Lucca is also a city of music: the great opera composer Puccini was born here and the town is rightly proud of this. The house he was born in is now a Puccini museum, opera shows are always on, the buskers sing opera arias and even the restaurants are named after his most famous works!
From tourism to culture, Puccini’s name is everywhere and in the summer musicians from all over the world come to play homage during a beautiful music festival. The annual Lucca Summer Music festival usually offers an impressive lineup and families are encouraged to take part with free entry to kids under 6 (depending on the event, you can find additional info here
We visited Lucca for an afternoon and it can typically be done as a day trip from Florence, but if you can afford a little more time here, it’s worth it. We discovered that there is much more to Lucca and it really is one of the best local towns to base yourself in when exploring the Tuscan countryside and the perfect place to take things slow and truly appreciate the Italian lifestyle.
When to visit Lucca
You can travel to Lucca with kids at any time of the year but if you’re on a budget the best time to travel to Lucca with kids is during the off season as the prices will not be as expensive as in the summer, which is always crowded and hot.
- June – September: This is the summer season and it is the hottest time to travel to Lucca with kids as the average temperature can go up to 30o This is the peak season and the prices can be quite high.
- October – March: This is the winter season in Lucca the temperature can go as low as 5oC in December and January. It can be rainy during February and March so you will have fewer crowds during this season and sightseeing is quite pleasant with prices quite low.
- April – May: This is the spring season in Lucca with weather quite pleasant and prices are moderate. There will be shorter queues during this season but some shops and cafes might be closed during this season.
How to get to Lucca
The closest airport is Pisa International Airport, the main hub for travel in and around Tuscany. Reaching Lucca from PSA is relatively quick and easy to do by bus. At the airport, bus tickets (cost: EUR 4) can be purchased at the information desk in the arrivals area and the trip takes about an hour. Another option is to take the train from PSA (there is a train station at the airport). It’s about five minutes to Pisa Centrale where you’ll change trains to get into Lucca. The whole trip should take 45 to 50 minutes and cost EUR 3.50.
You can also reach Lucca by bus, train or car.
If visiting Lucca as a day trip from Florence both train and bus are good options and it comes down to personal preference. Both will drop you in the city centre, a few minutes walk from the walls. The price and length of journey are similar.
Lucca can easily be reached by train in 20 minutes from either Pisa or Florence. If you can’t afford a lot of time here, it’s also a perfect little stop between Cinque Terre and Florence. The easy train connections make it possible (and we’d go so far as saying enjoyable) to forget the car rental! Trains to Lucca from Florence depart from Firenze Santa Maria Novella almost every hour and they take between 1 and a half to 2 hours to get there, depending on the type of train. You can find information on how to get from Florence to Lucca and from Pisa to Lucca as well as the full timetable on the Trenitalia website (where it is also possible to book train tickets)
How to get around in Lucca
Walk: The best way to get around in Lucca is by walking or biking as much of what you’ll want to see in Lucca is closed off to traffic.
Ride: Bikes are available to rent all over the city and it’s the preferred method of getting around for locals, most of whom have a bike. Rent a bike at Antonio Poli, near the tourist office at Piazza Santa Maria 42 (www.biciclettepoli.com; tel. 0583/493787; daily 8:30am–7:30pm, closed Sun mid-Nov to Feb and Mon mornings year-round). On the same street, bikes are also available from Cicli Bizzarri, Piazza Santa Maria 32 (www.ciclibizzarri.net; tel. 0583/496031; Mon–Sat 8:30am–1pm and 2:30–7:30pm, plus Sun same hours Mar to mid-Sept). The going rates are 3€ an hour for a regular bike, 4€ to 4.50€ for a mountain bike, and 6.50€ for a tandem. You can find bike rentals with child seats at La Toscana Nel Cuore near the Piazza Napoleone.
Public Transportation: A set of navette (electric minibuses) whiz down the city’s peripheral streets
Taxi: Taxis line up at the train station (tel. 0583/494989), Piazzale Verdi (tel. 0583/581305), and Piazza Napoleone (tel. 0583/491646).
Parking: Lucca is a walled Tuscan town and traffic inside the city walls is strictly regulated. If you are visiting for the day, you can find on street parking just outside the walls (pay and display) or use one of the many, well sign posted parking lots just beside the city gates. Under no circumstances be tempted to drive into the walled town unless you have explicit permission from your hotel: I promise you, it has been done and the fine will reach you, no matter where you are in the world! Follow this link for more info on how to drive in Italy and avoid fines
If you are looking for information on parking in and around Lucca check out Discover Tuscany for parking information.
Where to Stay in Lucca with Kids
Lucca is very well equipped with B&Bs and hotels as well as being close to stunning countryside and equally stunning ‘agriturismi’. If you are thinking of staying the night, these are some family friendly hotels: