1. Stay the night: One of the biggest mistakes I think people make when it comes to Lucca is making their only visit to Lucca a day trip. It's such a missed opportunity to explore this amazing town! While people rush through Lucca as a day trip, I highly advise against this. Instead, I recommend booking 2-3 nights and using Lucca as your home base...then you can day trip to Florence or Pisa and come back to the quiet (and usually cooler temps) in the evening. Need a rec on where to stay? Our friend Vanessa with Lucca Travels has some amazing apartments smack in the center of Lucca!
2. Shop like a local: Bring on the local markets! Italy is such a tease when it comes to antique shopping (why can't I fit that gorgeous antique armoire in my carry-on?!) but it's so worth the eye candy! While the vintage furniture I've found won't fit in my suitcase, I've found some absolute treasures over the years! Including one of my favorite turquoise rings and some amazing Kilim pillow covers that can be folded up to travel home.
If you don't happen to overlap with an antique festival during your time (typically the 3rd weekend of the month), at least try and hit one of the early morning markets in various neighborhoods of Lucca. These traveling markets carry everything from kitchen supplies (olive oil dispensers and tablecloths make for great souvenirs or gifts), clothing (with terribly spelled English translations) and delicious local cheeses and produce. They're eclectic and so fun to explore.
3. Explore the walls, above and below: The walls are amazing and are perfect for a variety of activities...riding a bike, jogging, reading a book, picnicking (and napping), taking an evening stroll, and even wandering inside! The wall around Lucca were made to fortify the city of Lucca against attacks and now encircle the historic city center. Up top, it's about 2.6 miles all the way around with a variety of tree types growing along each side of the wall. Fall is a pretty gorgeous scene as the trees are changing colors at different times.
Below, it can be very fun to explore. There's tunnels in portions to allow for pedestrians and bikers to enter the city on a path without cars and some larger areas are also open. The Bastion of San Paolino is particularly cool as they've renovated it in recent years to help preserve it, and now use it as a space for art exhibitions!
4. Rent a bike and get lost: Besides renting a bike to ride around the top of the walls or into the countryside, a bike can be helpful in covering ground inside the walls too. Especially since there's a wall around the historic center, you can only get lost so much and still be in the historic center! When I first spent time in Lucca, I'd ride around all day getting lost and finding new streets to sketch and then I'd find the nearest ramp up on top of the wall to ride until I found an area I recognized to navigate home.
Bonus points too if you wake up early to ride through town. You'll only have to share the streets with the produce delivery people and garbage collectors instead of weaving between tourists! There's plenty of bike rentals throughout the city so just rent one that's closest to where you're staying so you can easily return your bike when you're done.
5. Go on a Gelato Crawl: My most prolific day of eating gelato in Italy is a tie between Lucca and Bologna (6 gelato in one day). For a place so small, Lucca has some absolutely EPIC gelato places. Some of the most unique flavors I've ever had were eaten in Lucca...watermelon gelato (which is surprisingly hard to make since the water content is so high) salted AND unsalted pistachio, and beet sorbet with apple, ginger and lemon are some favorites I've had in Lucca. La Bottega del Gelato, De' Coltelli and Gelateria del Anfiteatro will definitely keep you busy and there's plenty of others throughout the city that you can visit too.
6. Climb the Guinigi Tower: Do it, just do it. Compared to the Duomo in Florence (463 steps), this 232 step tower is much more manageable and you have the added surprise of oak trees at the very top! It's a great way to get oriented with the city and see the surrounding area outside the walls of Lucca. It's also a neat vantage point to sketch some roof tops!
7. Visit the churches, gardens and museums: A nickname for Lucca is the 'City of 100 Churches.' There's A LOT of churches here, and some very important ones too. The San Martino church is home to the Volto Santo (a sculpture allegedly carved by Nicodemus) and San Frediano has a gorgeous mosaic on the facade. Many of the churches are free to visit, including San Michele in the center of town. There's also a lot of private garden and a botanical garden you can tour in the historic center. Definitely hit up at least one of the many historic sites.
8. Go to a concert: A concert in Lucca? YES! Lucca is home to the Lucca Summer Festival which brings in some BIG names every July, and a bit of June. Over the years I've seen Tedeschi Trucks Band, Backstreet Boys (it was a blast!), Van Morrison and Tom Jones. Even on nights I didn't have tickets, just wandering around the city during the show allowed me to listen to Stevie Wonder, Ennio Morricone and Elisa.
Did you know Lucca is the home of Puccini? You can visit the Puccini museum in Lucca and possibly catch a showing of some of his more famous compositions.
9. Enjoy an aperitivo in a piazza: One of the best things in Italy is the evening apertivo. Not only is it a great way to have a delicious light dinner plus a drink (if you find a good spot), but it's a great way to enjoy a little bit of the local life. People bring their children along to play in the piazza while the parents sit at a nearby bar enjoying a cocktail and munching on the included aperitivo snacks.
10. Eat all the things: Tuscany is just filled with delicious food in general, and many towns have their particular specialties. Lucca has two: Buccellato and Tordelli Lucchese. Buccellato is a tasty sweet bread that you can get fresh in the center of town right along the back of the San Michele church at Taddeucci. The owner is darling and the shop feels like stepping back a few decades in Lucca history.
My favorite pasta dish in Lucca, maybe even all of Tuscany, is tordelli lucchese. These meaty and spiced pasta raviolli are so stinking good and nearly every restaurant puts their own twist on the amount of them. My favorite tordelli in town can be found at Osteria Baralla. Tucked along the backside of the anfiteatro, this restaurant is often packed with locals...and for good reason. Hit them up for lunch or dinner and you won't be disappointed.
What would you want to do in Lucca?