We went to Lucca with the kids on a hot summer day, mid-July. We had spent the night in the wonderful Campo di Carlo country home, in the Tuscan countryside and the time had finally come to drive back to our home-exchange-home in Florence. The drive to the city wouldn’t have taken us more than about 2 hours, possibly even less, but we decided to break it down and stop for lunch and a stroll in beautiful Lucca.
Lucca is a fabulous small town located 80 Km West of Florence, Italy. Is a beautiful walled Tuscan town of the kind you see depicted in travel magazines, but maybe because less famous than neighbouring Pisa it still retains great local charm. It is perfect for a day trip from Florence of Pisa or, even better, as a base to exploreTuscany with kids.
- Where is Lucca: Lucca is a town in the North of Tuscany, not far from Pisa (18 Km), Florence (77 km) and Viareggio.
- How to get to Lucca: you can reach Lucca by bus, train or car. You can find information on how to get from Florence to Lucca and from Pisa to Lucca on the Trenitalia website (where it is also possible to book train tickets) and the local Tuscan bus service www.sitabus.it.
- The closest airport is Pisa. If you prefer a guided tour, a good one is offered by Select Italy and includes not just Lucca but also Pisa and Forte dei Marmi, on the coast. You can find additional info here
- Where to park in Lucca: 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! Follows this link for more info on how to drive in Italy and avoid fines) and we ventured on our exploration on foot. This is what we liked the most.
Top things to see in Lucca with children (or indeed, without!)
Lucca’s stunning ‘piazze’ and their elaborate churches
Lucca is the quintessential Tuscan city, full of art and beauty pretty much no matter where you look. Parts of the town where this is at its absolute best are Lucca’s piazzas.
The first one we stumbled upon caught us by surprise: the narrow and winding streets of Lucca part hid the imposing structure that is the church of San Michele, only allowing us a partial glimpse of its elaborate facade. When you finally get to the square, it’s a real triumph of light and carved stone!
San Michele in Foro (church)
The Church of San Michele in Foro, this is its official name, is Romanesque in style and has one of the most beautiful and elaborate facades in the whole of Italy. It has 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 church as we see it now 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.
San Michele in Foro is truly impressive and one of the top things to see in Lucca even if you only have a small time in the city. If you are visiting Lucca with kids, you might be happy to know that the piazza is very child-friendly: the square is, for the most part, closed to cars and there is plenty of space to run around and there is always plenty of street performers to keep the kids entertained.
Lucca cathedral is called San Martino and is located immediately outside the main tourists paths, in a quite 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 vity walls: Lucca is a walled city but her bastions are fully walkable: if you follow them, you will easily recognise the cathedral thanks to the imposing tower bell.
In terms of style, the cathedral is gothic/Romanesque and has the multicoloured marbles that make so much of the architecture of this area so special. We didn’t’ enter the cathedral in this occasion but if you have time, it is worth wondering inside: it contains several masterpieces including 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.
Another incredible piazza, maybe the most famous in Lucca, is piazza dell’anfiteatro (lit. the amphitheatre square): 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 – or, if you are a kid, to run around! Like many other parts of town, the square is closed to traffic and can only be entered on foot or by bike (more about this later).
A square that we didn’t have time to visit on this occasion but that is favourite with local families is Piazza Napoleone, also called Piazza Grande. This is an elegant, large square and what makes it so attractive to little visitors is its transformation during Christmas time: here is where Lucca’s residents come to ice-skate!
Like any Tuscan walled city worthy or its name, Lucca has some impressive towers, the most famous of all being la Torre Guinigi. The tower has a remarkable trait that is sure to intrigue your kids: in its top, it hosts a garden, complete with tall trees! This peculiar garden can be visited (mind those steps!) and as well as being fun to spot has also a historical meaning: the Guinigi family, I am told, commissioned it to symbolize the new blossoming of the town under their rule.
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Things to do in Lucca with kids
Visit Leonardo da Vinci’s exhibition
The city has one important art gallery (Pinacoteca Nazionale), but since we were visiting Lucca with kids who only had eyes for gelato, we had not planned any cultural stops. Despite this, we soon spotted an exhibition that attracted our attention: a collection of Leonardo da Vinci’s machines. The exhibition is in the Chiesa di San Cristoforo, in the centre of town, and it is phenomenal!
It has many interesting machines, created by the genius of Leonardo and covering a huge array of human activities: flying machines, hydraulic mechanisms,a contraption to walk on water (yes, you read that right!): it is mind blowing what Leonardo created and it really gave new meaning to the expression ‘if you can dream it, you can do it’ – or at least, Leonardo could!
The whole family loved the exhibition and spent a long part of the afternoon there (you can touch some of the machines, which made the kids also engage with them).
The greatest hit, among the many inventions, was a 360 degrees mirrored room, where you can literally see the whole of yourself at the same time. The kids went in and out an inordinate amount of times, screaming with laughter: the mirrors made us able to push back the request for gelato for about 1 hour.
Attend Lucca’s summer festival
Lucca is 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 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. While we did not have time to attend any concert, in town we received copies of the impressive programme and the line up is impressive and families are encouraged to take part with free entry to kids under 6 (depending on the event, you can find additional info here
Indulge in shopping and gelato
Lucca has some amazing shops and if you like cruising around shops you will love Via Fillungo. Best buys are, like often in Tuscany, clothes and leather goods but make sure you don’t ignore food shops and do try the local specialty: buccellato!
No family day trip in Italy can be complete without ice cream and Lucca was generous when it came to it. Just beside Piazza San Michele we found an organic, natural gelateria, gelateria de’ coltelli, that satisfied all family cravings for a sugary and reasonably healthy treat.
You can find additional ideas on what to do in Lucca with kids, along with accommodation advice in this post by fellow family travel blogger Untold Morsels
Florence to Lucca train or bus?
If visiting Lucca as a day trip from Florence both train and bus are good options and to be perfectly honest with you, it comes down to personal preference. Both means of transport leaves you in the centre, a few minute walk from the walls and price and length of journey are similar.
At the time of writing, trains to Lucca 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 the full timetable on www.trenitalia.it The bus follows a similar schedule and you can find it here (you need to click on the pdf option)
So what do you think: has Lucca made it into your Tuscan itinerary?