Lucca is magical city well worth visiting on a holiday to Tuscany. Though its rival and neighboring city, Pisa tends to get all the glory, Lucca has a lot to offer.

Many visitors tend to hit both cities in one day on a day tour, which condenses the time at their disposal. So what is the best way to visit Lucca in under 2 hours?  Easy, take a stroll around the city center and admire the sights!

Here is a suggested itinaeray that covers some of Lucca’s highlights:

A Short Tour

Start at the Santa Maria Door

You can enter Lucca from different gates, but don’t venture too far into the center of town by car. Most of the traffic is restricted to residents (look out for signs that say ZTL), so make sure to park and proceed on foot.

Porta Santa Maria in Lucca,a detail
The top of Porta Santa Maria. The limestone lion was the symbol of the Lucca Municipality.

Porta Santa Maria, on the North west side of Lucca, is a great access point. There are at least three different parking lots in the area near the gate. You will probably be charged around €1.50 for the first hour and then €2.00 for the following ones.

Walk to the San Frediano Basilica

Visitors don’t even have to enter the basilica to be wowed by San Frediano. When you reach the church’s homonymous square, look up at the 14th century mosaic of Christ’s Ascension that covers the top part of the facade. The bell tower at the back of the basilica dates back to the 12th and 13th century. It boasts decorative arches and Ghibeline style battlements. 

Front view of the San Frediano Basilica in Lucca
The San Frediano Basilica. Note the mosaic that decorate the facade.

The inside of the church has maintained its medieval aspect and remains quite bare which accentuates the elegance of the central supporting arches. Make sure to admire the marble baptismal fountain and the Della Robbia terracotta bas relief of the Annunciation in the right nave.  

Walk to the Anfiteatro square 

There is something magical about passing through one of the entrances to the square and finding yourself in an enclosed oval shape. The remains of the Roman amphitheatre were used to give shape to this surprising architectural gem.

Piazza dell'Anfiteatro, Lucca in a sunny day
The round shape of Piazza dell’Anfiteatro reminds us that 2000 years ago it was a Roman amphitheater where gladiator fights were held.

Over the years more and more buildings were added and completely enclosed the ‘arena’. Only one of the 4 entrances was used as an original access point in Roman times. It is easily noticeable because it is 3 metres lower than the others! 

A stone slab covered with a cross marks the exact point where the four doors intersect.

Head to the Lucca cathedral

The Lucca cathedral is named the Duomo di San Martino by locals. The cathedral was originally founded by Saint Frediano in the 6th century but built in the 11th. The facade of the church that opens up on the main square is ornately decorated. At the base, there is a portico with three arches. Notice that one is slightly narrower as it had to be adapted to fit next to the pre-existing bell tower building.

The arches at the entrance of the Lucca Cathedral
Lucca cathedral’s portico and colonnade.

Curious visitors might want to look out for a circular labyrinth inscription on the very pilar closest to the bell tower. It is said to have been inscribed by Templars. The three lines of decorative arches on top of the portico are so delicate, they almost look like stone lace from afar. 

If you have time, why not peek inside the church and marvel at the natural light shining in from a circular window on top of the altar which illuminates the striking line of columns and beautiful painted ceiling. Entrance fee €3.00.

Walk to Piazza Napoleone

Piazza Napoleone shows another side of Lucca’s history. In the beginning of the 19th century, the city passed under Napoleonic rule and the Emperor’s sister, Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi, became the Princess of Lucca. She had the whole square torn apart and remade according to the aesthetic standards of her time.

Piazza Napoleone in Lucca
This piazza in Lucca was designed by one of Napoleon’s sisters in 1806, when he was at the height of his power.

Piazza Napoleone is often the venue of concerts and events organised by the city. The main building on the western side of the square is the town hall.

Climb up Torre Guinigi

If you need a change from the numerous churches of Lucca, head to the Guinigi tower. This brick building dates back to the Middle Ages when the city boasted around 250 towers. The distinguishing trait of this particular one is the crown of trees at its top!

Top of the Guinigi Tower
The top of the Guinigi Tower. Have you ever seen a tower topped with trees?

Enjoy the wonderful views of Lucca and the Apennines under the shade of century old oaks. The climb is quite steep (230 steps), but well worth the effort. Torre Guinigi has different opening times based on the season. From June to September it is opens from 9.30 to 7.30pm. Entrance cost €5.00.  

Circle back to Santa Maria door and retrieve your car!

Another great Lucca attraction are the bastions that surround most of the city. They make for a great walk (or bike ride) on a sunny day. Sadly on a two hour visit, it is probably best to save them for another trip!

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