Located a short train ride outside of Florence, lovely Lucca, home to about 85,000 residents, offers up cobblestoned streets and elegant palaces, elaborate churches and a ring of Renaissance-era fortification walls that have been turned into biking and walking paths. For music aficionados, it also happens to be where the composer Giacomo Puccini was born. (Find out more about other great day trips from Florence!).
The beautiful, historic town of Lucca is an unspoiled medieval centre which is totally enclosed by walls. The town has expanded and been modernised many times but the walls have remained intact and in excellent condition throughout.
The walls are 4,200 metres in length, wide and very high. On the outside they are brick but inside they are grassy slopes with each one of the four sides of the wall planted with a different species of tree. It makes a very pleasant and interesting trip to either walk or cycle right the round the top of these walls. The views of the town, with its stunning historical buildings and its many parks is quite spectacular from the top of the wall. This trip is certainly a must for all keen photographers.
Lucca has barred all general traffic from driving within the city walls and the locals tend to cycle everywhere. There are many places to hire bicycles, both by the city walls and within the centre. It is an excellent way to get around and see the city and would mean you could easily manage both the city centre and a trip around the walls all within one day.
Once inside the city you will at first be a little stunned by the number of historical buildings, some even dating back to the 8th century, all of which are in excellent condition. All around these buildings there is a maze of little winding roads which disappear into alleys, lead down to vaults or suddenly open up into a sunny square filled with bars and cafes. Houses, businesses, shops, cafes, offices, art galleries, restaurants and bars all blend into together in the ancient buildings which line the narrow streets.
The main square is called Piazza San Martino and it is here that you will find the unmistakeable white topped cathedral Duomo di San Martino. This unusual, 6th Century cathedral is home to many works of art, including the celebrated and locally treasured Volto Santo, an ancient crucifix and christ carved from cedar wood.
A particularly good example of medieaval architecture is the Guinigi Tower. This was once part of a group of mansions and four towers belonging to the most important family of the city, the Guinigi. This is the only tower left standing and it is 44.25 metres high and and has trees growing from its top. It is possible to climb Torre Guinigi and the views make it well worth the effort. Lucca is not very large and as it is flat and contained it is possible to see all the famous landmarks, historic buildings and maze of streets from the top of the tower.
Another famous landmark is the Piazza dell´Anfiteatro, a small oval piazza with entrances at the four points of the compass and stands on the site of what was once a Roman amphitheatre.
Lucca is a fascinating and beautiful city, full of stunning sights but small enough to get around easily. There are plenty of places to eat and drink and there are some fascinating little shops around the maze of narrow streets. These cobbled streets are traffic free but full of people on bicycles, which makes a pretty sight as they weave around all the old buildings.