Lucca: History, Culture, and Gelato

Lucca’s Allure

There are few places in the world to which I return time and again, but one is Tuscany’s Lucca. It has everything I seek, wrapped in a tiny parcel of history, culture, gastronomy, charm, and even handles sweltering heat. Less than six hours travel from London, should one choose to fly, Lucca is a perfect, short-break destination. My last visit was more than memorable.

The narrow streets of Lucca - perfect for a heatwave
The narrow streets of Lucca – perfect for a heatwave

Italian Indulgence

“I have no idea how you can eat that,” said my companion, pointing at my third portion of Italian ice-cream (gelato) as we sat at the round metal table in the tiny gelateria, beside Lucca’s city centre. “It is so unsustainable. I thought you were against that.”


I tried to nod, while slurping pistachio and strawberry, as I am a sucker for all things Italian, especially gelato. My companion was right, as I am an environmental obsessive and had even driven to Lucca in a hybrid electric car rather than fly. We were walking everywhere in the city, which was just as well as Lucca has strict rules about cars in its centre and takes low emissions seriously. But gelato is a problem, as its carbon footprint is huge. Weight for weight, gelato is the same as a cheeseburger.

Walls and Legends

We were recovering, after spending an hour walking the full circumference of the city’s walls. The walls are both intact and impressive and were initially built as a defensive rampart but are now a promenade. Walking the walls would be reason enough to visit Lucca. They are not high and are why Lucca has the title of Città d’arte, just like Florence, Genoa, Perugia, and other classic cities.

Lucca’s city walls

Lucca houses plenty of statues, many of lounging, eminent Italians. The one of the composer Giacomo Puccini in the Piazza Citadella is classic. He is utterly relaxed and is even smoking. Anything appears permitted in Tuscany, Lucca in particular.

San Martino Cathedral

Not far from the city walls stands Lucca’s San Martino cathedral, housing the most famous relic in the city, the Holy Face of Lucca. This is a cedar-wood crucifix and image of Christ, said to have been carved by his contemporary Nicodemus, who helped place Christ in his tomb after the crucifixion. Every September, Lucca holds the Luminara di Santa Croce, or Exaltation of the Holy Cross, with a dazzling procession of lit candles, while many of the city’s buildings are similarly lit. The cathedral does not stop there. Embedded in its righthand portico is a labyrinth, identical to, but said to predate the 13th-century labyrinth found in Chartres.

Duomo di San Martino in Lucca (courtesy Daniel Tomlinson)
Duomo di San Martino in Lucca (courtesy Daniel Tomlinson)

Another reason for visiting Lucca is to climb the 230 steps of the brick Guinigi Tower, built by a family of the same name and dating from the 1300s. The tower is topped by holm oaks and offers a glorious view over Lucca. The Guinigi Tower is one of the few towers to still be standing and is a must for legs that can climb.

Culture in Lucca

Lucca is my definition of culture, especially with the month-long Lucca Summer Festival, an annual music celebration attracting artists from around the world. It is held in the city’s Piazza Napoleone and has an atmosphere crackling with energy. The city has plenty of museums and art galleries, too, such as the Museo Nazionale di Palazzo Mansi that houses a collection of Renaissance paintings, and the Villa Guinigi National Museum with its archaeological treasures and artefacts.

My next triple portion of gelato was in Lucca’s Piazza dell’Anfiteatro, a public square in the north-east quadrant of the city with a cross carved in the central tile of the square. The Piazza dell’Anfiteatro, in the 1st or 2nd centuries BCE, was an amphitheatre that could seat 10,000 spectators. Amphitheatres then were for events such as gladiator combats and executions. Today, they are for relaxation, coffee, and conversation.

Piazza Anfiteatro (Lucca)
Piazza Anfiteatro (Lucca)

Local Gastronomy

In the unlikely event I can ever abandon gelato and seek wholesome food, the Mercato del Carmine sells plenty of fresh produce, fragrant herbs, and local delicacies. In Lucca I do spend lengthy periods in its restaurants and cafés, as an important part of any visit to Italy is the time spent eating, drinking, and relaxing. Lucca is not a place where life is led at triple speed. I adore the local Chianti, and if I can be tempted away from gelato, Lucca’s food is wonderful, too. My perfect meal is a starter of garmugia, that delicious Tuscan vegetable soup, with pane altopascio, traditional saltless Tuscan bread. Then comes rovelline lucchesi, veal escalopes that are sautéed with tomato sauce, garlic, and capers, a dish once made from the leftovers of Sunday lunch. And dessert? I should say castagnaccio, a traditional Italian chestnut cake, but in my case there is no chance.

For me it will always be gelato.


If you go…

Where it is

You will find Lucca at the following co-ordinates:



Getting there


Lucca railway station is located just outside the City Walls in Piazza Ricasoli

Special Assistance: +39 0583 490 104

Train timetables:


Pisa International Airport
Piazzale D’ascanio, 1, 56121 Pisa

Information Office: +39 050 849 300
Pisa Airport Switchboard: +39 050 849 111


Vaibus ticket office: +39 0583 587897
Ticket office:
Services and timetables:


Florence: 91kms (57 miles)

Genoa: 156kms (97 miles)

Milan: 280kms (174 miles)

Rome: 350kms (217 miles)

Paris: 1068kms (664 miles)

London: 1521kms (945 miles)

Madrid: 1605kms (997 miles)

Taxi service is run by CO.TA.PI (Pisa taxi cooperative).

Tel: + 39 050 541600.


My companion was in a wheelchair anyway, and we drove. Lucca works for a wheelchair, but a helping hand is a good idea.

Where to stay

Palazzo Dipinto

Address: Piazza del Palazzo Dipinto, 55100 Lucca

Tel: +39(0)583582873



Albergo alla Corte degli Angeli

Address: Via Degli Angeli, 23, 55100 Lucca

Tel: +39 0583 469204



San Luca Palace Hotel

Address: Via San Paolino 103, 55100 Lucca

Tel: +39 0583 317446



Where to eat

Gelateria Veneta

Address: Via Vittorio Veneto 74, 55100 Lucca

Tel: +39(0)583467037


Local Food Market Lucca

Address: Via San Paolino 116, Lucca

Tel: +39(0)583311077



Madama Butterfly

Address: Piazza Cittadella 9, 55100 Lucca

Tel: +39(0)583583503

Advice: For us the service was a problem

Ristorante Giglio

Address: Piazza del Giglio, 2, 55100 Lucca LU, Italy

Tel: +39 0583 494058



This has a Michelin star

Suggestions of sights to see

Further information

Centro de información turística

Address: Vecchia Porta S. Donato, Piazzale Giuseppe Verdi, 55100 Lucca LU, Italy

Tel: +39 0583 583150


Italy Heaven


2 people found this helpful

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Richard Villar

Travel writer, doctor & international mountain leader

4 Responses

  1. I loved Lucca too. We attended a performance of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly in one of the churches. So moving.

  2. Thanks Carole. There is something about Lucca, and I am not sure what it is. However, I am glad it is just not me that was moved by the place. You definitely have one up on me if you saw Madama Butterfly. Brilliant! Best wishes. Richard V

  3. It’s on my wish list for our joint ‘0’ birthdays next year so really pleased to read your article, Richard. Inspiring as always!

  4. Good to hear from you, Gillian. Lucca should most certainly be on a traveller’s wish-list, so I am more than delighted to hear that you both intend to go. Best wishes. Richard V

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