The walled city of Lucca makes a great base for visiting towns and sights in northern Tuscany.
Pisa is primarily known for its Leaning Tower but there’s much more to see in this medieval town. Around the Leaning Tower is a whole complex of beautiful Romanesque monuments, including its 11th century cathedral. A river runs through town and there are more medieval buildings, museums, a botanical garden, places to eat, and shops.
- If you’re going in high season, be sure to buy your tickets to see the Leaning Tower in advance. Click the Pisa link above for information.
Getting to Pisa by train is easy. There are usually two trains per hour, taking about half an hour to get to Pisa. The closest train stop for the Leaning Tower and Piazza dei Miracoli is San Rossore, a smaller station before Pisa Centrale, the main station.
While it’s too much to go to Florence for a day trip and see all the sights, if you just want to see the Piazza del Duomo and cathedral and a few other monuments or a couple of museums, it’s easy enough to do. It’s a good way to get a feel for the city.
- To easily see the highlights, take the small group Florence Walking Tour with David that includes a few hidden gems and a visit to the Accademia to see the David statue. Get 5% off this tour with promo code ITALYMARTHA.
The train to Florence’s main station, Santa Maria Novella, runs a couple of times an hour most of the day and takes from 1.25 to 1.75 hours. Closer cities to visit along the rail line between Lucca and Florence are the spa town of Montecatini Terme, Prato, or Pistoia.
Viareggio, on the Sea
If you’d like to look at the sea, go to the beach, or see Liberty style architecture, take the train to the seaside resort town of Viareggio, only 20 – 30 minutes away. Walk along the seaside promenade, have a great seafood meal near the fishing harbor, and see the Liberty style villas. For a private tour or cooking class, contact Wishversilia.
- The beaches in the main part of town are private establishments that you pay to use but there are public beaches near the edge of town. See what to know about Italian beaches.
Viareggio is also one of the top places in Italy to celebrate Carnevale, Italy’s mardi gras, and there’s a small carnival museum open on weekend afternoons.
North of Lucca, the Garfagnana is a scenic, mountainous area dotted with small towns and villages. While much of the Garfagnana is best explored by car, there are a few towns you can reach by train and you’ll have nice views of the countryside and Serchio River along the way. Visiting these towns lets you experience small town Italy away from tourist crowds.
- Castelnuovo di Garfagnana, one of the largest towns in the area, has a picturesque historic center that mostly date from the 13th – 16th centuries, a small 12th century castle with an archeological museum, and a few shops and places to eat where you can buy or taste local specialties. There are several small, artisan food producers in Garfagnana and this is a good place to find some of their products. From Lucca, it’s about an hour on the regional train line.
- Bagni di Lucca is really a group of villages in an area of thermal springs. The Bagni di Lucca station is in Fornoli (about half an hour from Lucca) and from there you can take a bus to some of the other villages such as Ponte a Serraglio, a historic spa town on the river.
Near Lucca are several stately villas with gardens that are open to the public. If you have a car, they’re easy to reach. Some villas can also be reached by bus or by bicycle and there are several places to rent bikes in Lucca.
Taking the Train from Lucca
Lucca’s train station is just outside the walls near the San Pietro gate. Since trains from Lucca are regional trains, there are no reserved seats and you’ll need to validate your train ticket (unless it’s for a specific time and train number).
Buses going to nearby towns leave from near Piazzale Verdi, near the west end of Via Emmanuale.
If you have a car, note that traffic inside the walls is restricted so you’ll need to park your car in a lot outside the center and walk in.