Things to do in Lucca
Lucca is a historical city located in Tuscany and is known as the city of a hundred churches due to its large amount of historical religious structures. The old town is encircled by medieval city walls which you can walk or cycle around (see below) with a number of gorgeous public squares. Set out below are things to do in Lucca and suggested day trips.
Explore the town
You can spend a casual day wandering around the town, the cobbled streets and stopping off for a Spritz or two. There are several piazza squares with restaurants, bars and shops – our favourite was Piazza Antifeatro.
Spread out in the town, there are several churches to visit including the Church of San Michele (entrance is free). There are also various towers dotted around the town. The only one you can climb is Torre Guingi for a €5 fee. This tower was built in the second half of the fourteenth century by the Guinigis, a rich merchant family with the height reflecting the prestige and importance of the family.
Torre Guingi is unique as it has a small garden at its summit! The Guinigi family had planted the garden and tree to represent rebirth and renewal. From the top you can get an incredible view of the city and surrounding mountains. Be careful at the top though as the barriers are surprisingly low.
Cycle / Walk the walls
Lucca is famous for its tree lined city walls which you can cycle or walk around. The whole loop is just under 5km and is safe if you stay on track. The walls offer great views of the city and the surrounding mountains. As you walk / cycle there are a number of cafes and gelaterias to stop off at!
Day trip to the Cinque Terre
We could not resist a day trip to the Cinque Terre from Lucca. The five hamlets of the Cinque Terre are located on the west coast of the Riviera in Lugaria: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggorie. The area has been turned into a National Park and proclaimed heritage of mankind by UNESCO. The villages all have one thing in common – their stunning colourful houses built up high against the backdrop of the sea.
The villages are not the easiest to reach from Lucca without a car. You can look up trains here . The trip is via La Spezia which is your gateway to the five villages. Trains run fairly frequently between the villages but expect them to be busy. Boats also travel between the villages but are often cancelled due to high tides (they are small boats!)
Getting the train to the Cinque Terre
The quickest way on the train is from Lucca to Monterosso in 1hr 47 minutes which is €17.50 one way. This involves a 20 minute journey to Viareggio, changing at La Spezia Centrale and getting the Cinque Terre Express to Monterosso. You can travel for only €11.60 using the Regionale train for the second leg rather than Frecciabianca which takes around 2hrs 10 minutes. I also noticed that the return trip from Monterosso later in the evening can only take 1 hour 20 minutes with one change. To get between the villages on the train is around 10-15 minutes and costs €4. I think you can also get a Cinque Terre pass for unlimited train journeys between the villages.
In hindsight, we could have managed the train but it was quite daunting not knowing which villages to visit and how to get in between them. So, instead of worrying about the various changes on the trains and getting back on time, we opted for a tour with Come and See Italy (€105) who have over 15 years experience as a tour company. Our hotel made the booking on arrival but you can also book online.
Tour with Come and See Italy
The tours run every Tuesday and Saturday from Lucca station at 8am (arrive 15 minutes early). We were greeted by our guide, Eleanor, who was friendly from the start. At around 8.15 we embarked on the minibus to take us to La Spezia. One the way Eleanor told us about Tuscany as well as the history of the Cinque Terre. She explained that as the villages are all small and at sea level, there is very limited transport – some of the residents have to get a shuttle bus from town to their house!
On arrival at La Spezia we all caught the train to Manarola (around 25 mins), our first (and smallest) of three stops. There are only 200 inhabitants and for each local there are 1200 tourists – madness! There are a handful of souvenir shops, gelaterias and cafes but it is all about weaving your way through the narrow alleys and then climbing for the view. We spent around 50 minutes here and didn’t really need much more!
The tour includes a boat trip from Manarola to Vernazza but only if the weather permits. Sadly it had rained the day before and the sea was still too choppy. I was disappointed but Come and See Italy do make it clear that it is weather dependent. Instead, we caught the train to Vernazza (under 10 minutes). Vernazza has tall buildings leading into narrow alleyways which take you down to the incredible bay with a church. Again, you can climb to various viewpoints to get some stunning photos!
Final Stop at Monterosso
Our final stop was at the biggest of five villages, Monterosso, which has around 1100 inhabitants. It is divided between the new and old part of town and you could spend a whole day here walking around, relaxing on the beach or having several spritzes!
Most of our day was spent in the Old Town exploring the alleyways and climbing up and around the village taking in the spectacular views. If you go off the beaten track (safely!) it is much quieter and you can find some amazing spots for taking photos.
Lunch in Monterosso
We stopped off for lunch at a small restaurant down a side alley called San Martino. Only after looking on Trip Advisor did I discover that it was #1 in Monterosso! They have 10 dishes on the menu all priced between €9 and €13. We tucked into the Trofie with pesto (€10) which was delicious and the Ravoli with bolognese sauce (€10) which was sadly disappointing. This was paired with half a bottle of house wine (€8). Service was good and it was great to find some space to sit outside!
After lunch we stopped off for a Spritz in the newer part of town which had beachside views. After that at around 4pm we made out way back to La Spezia to get the bus and headed home to Lucca.
The tour was well organised and Eleanor was passionate, friendly and knowledgeable. Come and See Italy also offer many other tours from Lucca including Siena, Florence, Chianti wine tour and cooking classes. Come and See Italy were the cheapest tour company for a day trip to the Cinque Terre, although you should take into account the cost of reaching the station. Dolce Vita also offer the trip (€119) but pick you up from your hotel. They run the tours every Wednesday and Saturday but that didn’t work for us weather wise.
Other Day Trips
You can reach Florence, Siena and Pisa for a day trip from Lucca. As we had already visited (read here) we gave it a miss this time round.
East London Girl: Things to do in Lucca