Why Isn’t Lucca Mobbed? (Not That I’m Complaining…)

Pedaling around the top of Lucca’s city wall-turned-city park, feeling the wind in my hair and the sun on my face, it occurs to me: This is why you travel.

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Another thought occurs to me: Where are all the tourists? Aside from a few well-behaved international families pedaling and strolling along with me, virtually everyone I see up here — and throughout the town — are locals.

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Lucca is a mid-sized city (of around 90,000 people) on the northwestern edge of Tuscany. It’s about a 30-minute drive or train ride from the tourist droves in Pisa. But somehow, Lucca has escaped everybody’s notice.

It’s not for lack of charm. Lucca is right up there on a list of most charming Tuscan cities. Frankly, great artwork aside, I’d rank it above Florence, and possibly even Siena.

And that’s probably Lucca’s secret: No world-class artwork. If there were a Michelangelo or a Leaning Tower here, Lucca would be an obligatory stop on the tourist circuit. But there isn’t…so it’s not.

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Lucca does have some gorgeous churches, and a few decent museums. But the city’s real draw is its everyday-ness. It’s a place still owned and operated by local people — not the tourist-industrial complex. It’s simply a delight to wander.

The big landmarks are the rampart park that surrounds the city center (you can bike all the way around in under a half-hour), a couple of piazzas with towering churches, and an oblong square that echoes the footprint of a Colosseum-like arena that once stood here.

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But the real joy of Lucca is simply wandering its streets. Despite its approximately regular grid plan, the city is a maze. I get lost here more than in any town in Italy. But maybe, subconsciously, that’s intentional — few places are more enjoyable to simply be lost.

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Every side street you pass is a perfect Tuscan tableau.

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And when you dine out on a square, it’s just you, a tasty dish of Tuscan pasta, and centuries of elegant good living.

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The last thing I want is to drive more people to Lucca. But the most obnoxious breed of tourists — the ones who won’t bother with a place unless it has a famous landmark or piece of art they can tick off their list — won’t bother coming here anyway. Everyone says that when they travel, they want to see a “real, untouristy” side of Europe. If you really mean it…then go to Lucca.

35 Replies to “Why Isn’t Lucca Mobbed? (Not That I’m Complaining…)”

  1. Sounds like a nice place. How expensive is it for a retired couple if you want to spend some time there? Do you know if a couple could rent a room there for a month or so on a budget? Would love to know more about this area. Sounds lovely.

  2. Rick’s been singing Lucca’s praises for years. We’re all glad it’s still a secret:)
    Thanks for your posts and fabulous photos, Cameron.

  3. We had the good fortune to spend one night in Lucca last June. Even though it was summer and there were tourists around, it was nothing like the crowds elsewhere in Italy. We will definitely return!

  4. Hi Cameron, We are moving back to the USA from the Munich area in 2 weeks. But…this is one reason we plan to return to Europe over and over again. Thanks for the “trip to Lucca!” Beautiful photos and we will visit! Karen

  5. We visited Lucca on a Rick Steves tour and on another tour–both times as city day-trips with good local guides. Lucca is said to be a ‘wealthy’ town with some important banking institutions. Aside from the park along the tops of the broad city walls, we did not find the city to be a special place to visit. It seems more like a place to live. I like Italy a lot and have been to many places in several regions for multi-day stays. I would not pick Lucca for a multi-day visit or use it as a home base in preference to any of the other places we have stayed.

  6. Just got back from Italy and spent 2 nights in Lucca, so pleased we did, it’s a wonderful unpretentious town with lovely ways to get lost in the streets, the wall is a beautiful walk and we had no bad food!!

  7. As a Lucca local (we have an apartment nearby and just returned from six weeks there) I am not sure how you managed to photograph the town with so few people. There are usually lots of tourists and tour groups. It is rare to see those piazzas and streets so unpeopled except early or late in the day. Nonetheless it’s a great spot to visit and makes a great base for exploring the surrounding area much of which truly does have few tourists.

  8. We lived in Lucca for several weeks over Christmas a couple of years ago. It is, indeed, special. The holiday programs were magnificent, most at the famous opera house made famous by born-in-Lucca composer Puccini. A city of music…and wonderful shopkeepers, butchers and bicyclists. Great streets and a perfect wall to walk!

  9. I rented a two bedroom apartment in Lucca for 2 months 3 years ago. Took Italian classes at the Lucca Italian school, cooking classes and lived the Italian life. Best two months ever. I went to Puccini concerts, jazz concerts, concerts at the botanical gardens, wandered the streets in the evening with the locals and walked the walls,in the morning with the grandmas pushing strollers and the same group of men who walked the wall,every morning. Went on a few trips to Cinque Terre, Florence , Siena and San Gimignano. Even stayed the night in Pisa on their patron saint day in June when all the buildings are lit by oil lamps and they shoot off fireworks to Italian opera! Wonderful experience..

  10. i agree that Lucca is a gorgeous place to visit. We have an apartment in nearby Bagni di Lucca and visit often. I love that is still an Italian town, not completely given over to tourists, but I fear that is changing. I wish you hadn’t fiddled with your photos. They don’t look much like the real thing.

  11. Have lived in Lucca on and off for close to three years Rents are very reasonable, with the exception of the late spring and summer months. It is a half hour trip to Pisa’s airport and cheap flights via Ryan and Easy Jet to the UK and dozens of other cities in Europe and Africa. Bottom line –

    Remenber, if you are not a citizen or resident of an EU county you will need a visa to stay in Europe for more than 90 consecutive days,

  12. I spent a week there on my own a couple of years ago. Loved Lucca. Best after day trippers left. A great base for exploring other areas, mountains, coast, Pisa and Florence. Great small local restaurants. I felt like I really experienced living as a local once I got settled in. Would go back in a heartbeat.

  13. My husband and I are retired and spent the entire month of March in Lucca. Check out VRBO.com for a complete listing of rentals. We spent €1,000 for rent – an incredible bargain! An unforgettable experience…we plan to return in 2017!

  14. Lucca has been my summer home for the past six years, after many years in Siena. Lucca is a lovely town that grows as true love does. Staying in Lucca is relatively inexpensive and there are many quality restaurants with reasonable prices. There are so many nuances to the town and day trips to the villages in the hills north of Lucca provide incomparable experiences. The wall that encloses the ancient town is delightful for exercise and even for passive pleasures like enjoying its ambience while reading a book. If one wants the history and bustle of Rome or the bragging rights for visiting Florence or Venice, go for it, but Lucca is for deeper enjoyment at a more relaxed pace.

  15. We were there last October. Loved it to death, even though my husband tried to jump the curb on the ramparts on his bike to a couple of bloody knees! But you must include Lucca as Puccini’s birthplace and the fabulous concerts nightly at Chiesa San Giovanni!

  16. I visited Lucca once in 1998 and I still recommend it to anyone asking where to go or what to see in Tuscany. It was one of my favorite places in Tuscany and it was because it was not a ‘big’ tourist attraction, just a lovely stroll around the walls, lunch in the main square Piazza dell’Anfiteatro, and visits to a couple of churches.

  17. Gosh, so we are driving from San Gimignano to the Cinque Terre on June 26th and were planning on stopping in to see Lucca. I guess we should spend more time in Lucca and maybe skip Pisa and another coastal town on our way over (we have already seen the leaning tower a few years ago anyway).

  18. Lucca is the birthplace of Puccini. When we visited several years ago, we were told that there were nightly concerts of Puccini’s music. They took place in an old church. It was a magical night to sit in this old stone building and listen to various Puccini excerpts. The musicians were wonderful. I don’t know if the performances are still going on but if so, they are not to be missed.

  19. We visited Luca with our grandson on a shore excursion. After just a few blocks, he said I really like this town. It was raining but he rented a bike and rode on the ramparts. Our tour guide sent us to a little pizza spot, and it was called the best pizza in the world. No tables, you had to stand to eat. It was fun.

  20. On many trips to Pisa, Italy to visit my daughter and son-in-law stationed at Camp Darby Army base we always made it a point to visit Lucca. Great walled city and not crowded with tourists. If visiting Pisa or nearby make a trip to Lucca for lunch or dinner or just a bike ride around the city.

  21. Yes. Lucca is beautiful & should be visited if you are in Tuscany, however, Bagni de Lucca is wonderful. Just a very small place about 20 min. by bus from Lucca. The hotel has a wonderful dining room but the (maybe you would call it a pub) has a family-like atmosphere. You could sit there all day or alternatively go for a ride up to the hills surrounding the small town which, by the way, is divided I believe because the valley narrows so that one part is about 1 – 1 1/2 mile from the other. Beautiful, laid back little piece of Italy.

  22. I love Lucca! The day I spent biking and walking around Lucca was one of the top days on my last European vacation. We took the train from Venice, visiting Pisa along the way. Visiting Lucca is so relaxing, it’s like taking a vacation day during your vacation.

  23. We spent a month is a charming apartment in Lucca last year and fell in love with the city. We’ve traveled ALOT but that was one of our most enjoyable trips. There are numerous opportunities for day trips but what we loved the most was just living among the delightful Italians and being recognized at the places we frequented. We love traveling to new places but most of all we like being somewhere long enough that you enjoy the ambiance and the people rather than “checking off” another site.

  24. Three years ago this fall my husband and I lived in Lucca for 2 months. We rented a 2-bed, and bath place with a private yard for our car that we found through VRBO. We rode our bikes all over the hills north of Lucca, northeast toward Collodi and also west to the coast every day. It is a special place full of charm and grace. Quiet and relaxing. Next to biking in Boulder, CO, the Tuscan hills are the most ideal place to cycle in the world. It was our 3rd trip to Lucca and we won’t hesitate to do it again.

  25. I was there a few years ago and am going back this summer — SO excited! Glad to know it’s still a good place to go!
    Barb

  26. We were in Lucca for one evening in October last year, we walked a bit of the wall, a few street and had a great dinner then headed back to Florence by train. I want to go back there and stay longer. It was a wonderfully quiet and inviting place to visit. Rome, Florence and Venice have too many tourists, when on overload, head to Lucca.

  27. We stayed in Lucca for several days during an extended trip to Italy. It was truly a relaxing ‘vacation in a vacation’ where we felt removed from the bustle of Florence, Milan, etc. We enjoyed our walks with the locals during the early evenings. Late one evening, we were relaxing in the town square in front of the city hall (shown above in the table setting picture) when the church bells all over town started tolling. A man came out on the balcony of the city hall and lowered the Italian flag to half mast as everyone came to a stop and talked softly to each other. It was the night that the pope died.

  28. Ah the memories! Visited Lucca about 25 years ago as a stop on the way back to our rental in Castellina from a day trip to Pisa. Terrific meal and a liesurly stroll after dinner made for a relaxing end of the day after the crowds of tourists in Pisa. Sounds much the same today as it was then. And for opera lovers it is also the birthplace of Giacamo Puccini, well worth the pilgramage.

  29. Lucca was one of my “bucket list” places after we read that you could bike around the city wall. Going there was even better than I had imagined. We loved the fact that there, in Puccini’s home town, affordable concerts are available every night of the year. We heard a fantastic operatic program on a Saturday night for an amazingly affordable price. The city is beautiful, relaxed and still off the beaten path.

  30. We spent two nights, over a weekend, there several years ago [in a hotel from Ricks recommended list].

    There happened to be an antique market the same weekend.
    What a wonderful experience, very different merchandise than your typical American market
    In addition to visiting the old town and walking the wall,we spent hours just walking and looking at the unusual “stuff”.
    one of the best experiences of the trip.

  31. We loved our two days in Lucca a couple of years ago, except for the bed bugs all four of us suffered from for days.

  32. You know, I found it hard to put into words exactly what it was about Lucca that I adored and you have done it perfectly.

    It really is a special place and more so because it doesn’t attract the thousands.

    Beautiful piece.

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