Our family has enjoyed staying in Lucca with kids for 10 years now every summer while running the Arte al Sole children’s art workshops in the city. Year after year this elegant walled city remains one of our top recommendations as a central base for a family holiday in Tuscany. Here are a few of our tips for Lucca kids activities.
Bike the City Walls of Lucca
Lucca’s legendary Renaissance city walls are in and of themselves like a unique city park, lined elegantly with trees, with a bike path that consists of a 4.9 kilometer on the top of the wall, where there are cafes, gelato vendors, benches, and playgrounds. The views from the top of the walls are gorgeous, a unique way to orient your family to the city. If you go in the evening, the best time for biking the walls in Lucca with kids, you will find yourself surrounded by locals, whether on their traditional evening stroll, passeggiata, or, as the Lucchese like to do, substituting a tour on the bike as their own local version of the typical passeggiata.
If you are just visiting Lucca for the day, it is easy to enter the city walls, park, and rent a bike, either at Porta Elisa, where you will find public paid parking immediately on your right after you enter the porta, and just across the street from the parking there is a great selection of kids’ bikes at Tuscany Ride a Bike, at Via Elisa 26. Alternatively, you can enter the city at Porta Santa Maria, where there is also plenty of metered parking, and rent your bikes at Cicli Bizzari, right in the Piazza Santa Maria.
Climb Torre Guinigi
For families with children ages 7 and older, climbing the infamous Torre Guinigi, with the oak tree on top, is a fun adventure with a great prize at the end—a phenomenal view over the rooftops of Lucca and out to the beautiful terrain beyond the walls. Legend has it that the powerful merchant family of Lord Guinigi wanted to make their tower distinct, and achieve the greatest height of the towers of Lucca, as a symbol of their power in the Middle Ages, so they topped the tower with the tree, and indeed, it has lived on in history as an emblem of the city of Lucca itself. When you descend from the tower, I highly recommend lunch or dinner around the corner at Trattoria Gigi in Piazza del Carmine, 7. They have a nice contained terrace on the piazza that is family friendly, and a perfect Tuscan menu with typical specialties of Lucca. We like it for the roast meats, yum! The tortelli al ragu is another favorite, among many others…
Tour Back in Time in a Roman Town
Lucca really sparks kids’ imagination as it is very distinct as one of the few existing towns today that is still laid out on the same plan as the Roman town it once was. Begin at the famous Piazza Anfiteatro, a circular piazza of charming apartments and shops built up over the ages on top of what was originally the Roman amphitheater. Exit the piazza out onto Via Filungo, the main road of Lucca today, and “main street” of the Roman town. There are several toy stores along Via Filungo, as well as a great book store where you can find the fun souvenir children’s book Lucca: A Little Big City, by local author Vittoria Calafati, where the panthers from the city gate at Porta Santa Maria come to life to give some children a tour of the city and its history. For dining on Via Filungo, we like to stop for a pizza at Pizzeria Sbragia, via Filungo 146 (toward Piazza Santa Maria), where they serve family style pizzas, and the placemats are fun maps of the city for kids to color (they also deliver!). Finish your little tour of Roman Lucca by heading to the Cathedral of San Martino. The Cathedral is fun in and of itself for kids, so full of mysteries and symbols. A unique activity for kids in Lucca is the Medieval Beasts and Mystical Symbols workshop, a fun interactive 3-hour exploration of the city’s whimsical art history legacy. After taking ample time to gaze up with your family at the delights of the façade of the cathedral, finish your Roman tour by purchasing a ticket to enter the archaeological excavation of the Roman ruins underneath the church. To celebrate your discoveries and the kids’ new Roman knowledge, head over to Gelateria Veneta, where the gelato and sorbetto has been made on site for three generations with the freshest seasonal ingredients, at via Vittorio Veneto 74, and then hop on to the carousel nearby for a Belle Epoque whirl.
The Domus Romane is another great site for families to visit. It is a private museum of a unique excavation of a noble Roman villa, with many interactive exhibits in the underground ruins themselves that illustrate the history and daily life of Lucca as a Roman town. One particularly fascinating point about visiting this site with kids is the fact that Lucca is still in tact on an urban grid just exactly as it was, so when you are standing in the excavation, the kids can get a real sense of what the city was like, and an orientation to the streets, the forum, the nearby Roman theater, and so on. After leaving the Domus Romane, head over to the Church of San Michele, which stands in a very family friendly piazza on what was originally the Roman forum, the central business hub of the ancient town. The kids will love the church’s unfinished rear facade, where you can see that the statue of the Archangel Michael atop the facade has wings that were moved medieval priests who ascended up the stairs to wow crowds below with this feat of “animation.” On the right-hand side of the church, kids will be amazed to see ancient medieval graffiti, etched into the marble, a common practice along the Via Francigena pilgrimage road in the Middle Ages, when pilgrims would leave visual warnings for those travelers who would follow. In Piazza San Michele, you can find the most famous pizza of Lucca, a hole-in-the-wall, pizza-by-the-slice establishment, Pizzeria da Felice, at Via Buia 12. After finishing up our pizza in the piazza, most likely while listening to some street musicians play, we like to head over to Gelateria de’Coltelli at Via San Paolino 10 for their granita made fresh from seasonal, organic fruit.
Lucca offers families many opportunities to experience and enjoy incredible art and architecture from the Roman, Medieval, and Renaissance periods in a more relaxed setting with great pitstops in between sites, from the carousel, to parks, to gelato, and, of course, the famous Lucca Comics Museum. The city is also enlivened year round with fun events and festivals that kids and parents will enjoy together, especially music. So don’t be shy, this “Little, Big City” has so much art and activity to offer at a scale that is just perfect for family travel.
Guest author Shannon Kenny is Editor of the Italy family travel portal Italiakids.com, Founding Director of Arte al Sole—which offers art workshops, activities, and summer camps for international families in Lucca, Florence, Venice, and Umbria, and Owner of the boutique trip planning concierge Elaia Travel.Add to favorites