Barga is a charming Medieval hilltop town in Northern Tuscany, in the province of Lucca.
Not that many people have heard of Barga, Italy, and the tourists that do visit Barga tend to travel there on a day trip from Lucca, only spending a few hours wandering around the walled old city.
During my research for this article, I actually read a guide to Barga written by somebody who had spent just 4 hours there – 4 hours!
I happen to think that it’s a real shame that more people don’t take the time to soak up Barga’s beauty and give it the time that it deserves.
My aunt and uncle have been living in Barga for about 15 years, and whenever I visit, I’m blown away by the beauty of this charming little town.
With that in mind, I decided to pen this complete guide to Barga, including all of the best things to do in Barga, how to get there, and more.
So, if you’re looking for the most comprehensive guide to Barga, Italy, on the internet, then you’ve found it!
Let’s get into it.
Barga, Italy – The Most Charming Town in Tuscany
The history of Barga
Barga’s history has been…tumultuous.
Over the years, it seems like every man and his dog has fought to claim Barga Italy as his own.
In the 11th century, although Barga was formally subordinate to Lucca, it was obtained by Matilda of Tuscany, whose military accomplishments allowed her to dominate all of the territories north of the Church State (go girl!).
Matilda actually founded 100 churches, including the cathedral, or duomo of Barga – Collegiata di San Cristoforo. After she died, Matilda left all of her possessions to the cathedral, but this only caused a war, and the diocese of Lucca was split between several places, including Pisa.
This new allegiance with Pisa gave Barga the motivation and confidence it needed to take on Lucca, and so in the 13th century, Barga and Pisa fought Lucca together (this is known as the Battle for Barga).
Finally, in 1236, after a long battle, Barga was subordinated to Lucca, but it didn’t stay quiet for long – over the years, many regions have taken Barga as their own, but since 1923 it has remained a province of Lucca.
The most Scottish town in Italy
Take a walk around Barga and you may well hear a lot of Scottish accents, often from people seamlessly switching into Italian when the mood takes them.
There are a lot of Scots living in Barga, but this isn’t your typical ‘Brits abroad’ scenario – the Barga/Scotland connection goes all the way back to World War 2, when many Barga residents emigrated to Scotland.
Over the years, their children and grandchildren have returned to Barga, Tuscany, and now a massive 40% of Barga citizens have Scottish relatives!
There is even a fish and chip festival every August to celebrate the Scottish connection!
Is Barga worth visiting?
Most visitors to Italy go to all of the major cities.
Perhaps they will make a few stops along the Amalfi Coast, or visit Rome, but not very many tourists go and visit the smaller towns in Italy, and in my opinion, if you want to see the ‘real’ Italy then small towns like Barga are exactly where you need to be (another great spot I visited in Italy that is lesser known is Trento)!
Not only that, but overtourism is a real problem, and the antidote to it is to visit those lesser-known places!
In Barga, which has only 10,000 inhabitants, you can wander around the Old Town without having to battle through hordes of tourists.
What’s more, Barga is much more budget-friendly than larger Italian cities such as Rome or Florence – in Barga you can get a large glass of Prosecco for 2 EUR and a meal in a restaurant for as little as 8 EUR!
There is also always something going on in Barga, from the annual summer Jazz Festival, to the ‘Battle of Barga,’ the Fish and Chip festival, and the Christmas Nativity parade that takes place on the streets of Barga Old Town each year.
Every time a restaurant or shop opens, there is a party in its honour – in fact, there was even a recent inauguration for a new ATM in the Old Town!
There are also tonnes of boutique shops, art galleries, museums and churches, so much so that you’d have to spend a month in Barga to see everything it has to offer!
What’s more, Barga is very tourist-friendly.
Most Barga restaurants have English menus, the locals have a basic understanding of English, and the tourist information centre make it impossible for you to mess up.
Barga is also so tiny that it’s impossible to get lost, and you won’t need to worry about taking public transport around Barga because you can walk from one side of the city to the other in less than 10 minutes!
14 best things to do in Barga Italy
Explore Old Barga
The Old Town of Barga absolutely blew me away.
On my first visit to Barga back in 2011, I couldn’t believe how many secret passageways, staircases and alleyways there were, and the pastel-coloured houses with shutters on the windows and hanging baskets brimming with colour stole my heart – if you’ve ever visited Erice in Sicily, you will definitely notice some similarities to Barga.
What’s more, Barga’s Old Town is quiet.
You can take your time and stroll around the streets without having to push past large groups that are all jostling for that perfect picture.
You won’t find crowds of cruise ship tourists or groups of 30 people blindly following a tour guide. There aren’t Americans clutching paper maps and wearing socks with sandals (sorry to my American readers out there – I know that you aren’t the ones wearing socks and sandals).
Even in the middle of the day during the summer months, you will not feel as though you are just wandering through one giant tourist trap.
In Barga you will not find dozens of souvenir shops or restaurants geared specifically towards hapless tourists.
You will just find a sleepy town full of real people living real lives, and this makes Old Barga a pleasure to explore.
Walk up to the Duomo
Barga’s cathedral, or duomo, is called Collegiate di San Cristoforo (the Cathedral of San Cristoforo) and is a magnificent building at the highest point of the Old Town – there are a number of ways to reach it, but just keep walking up!
Barga’s duomo is home to frescoes and sculptures dating back to ancient times, and it is the oldest religious building in Barga, being built sometime between the 11th and 16th centuries.
The duomo is free to enter, but for the lights to be on you must put 2 EUR into the meter (the lights will then come on for 10 minutes).
Of course, like most European cathedrals, Collegiate di San Cristoforo is stunning inside, but the real treat is the view from outside.
From the front of the cathedral, the sweeping panoramic views over Barga Old Town and the sloping hills of the Apuan mountain range have to be seen to be believed, and the large grassy area to the side of the duomo is the perfect spot to while away an afternoon.
The Antonio Mordini Civic Museum
The Antonio Mordini Civic Museum is located right next to the duomo, so it’s worth checking whether it’s open after you’ve had a look around the cathedral.
The building itself is actually the former residence of the commissioner and chief of Barga, and the museum documents the palaeontology of the Serchio Valley, the archaeology of Barga and art from the Middle Ages and Renaissance.
There are some fossils and religious artefacts, and although most of the information is in Italian, the lady who showed us around spoke a little English and was able to tell us what things were.
The most interesting part of the museum, however, is the underground prison.
The prison was actually in use until the last century (having been there since 1330), and prisoners lived in underground stone cells, having only one hour every day for fresh air.
From the prison, prisoners had a view of the cathedral, but they also could also see the huge tree next to the duomo which was used for public hangings!
I love prison museums, and this one in particular was super interesting as the cells remain exactly as they were, with the prisoners’ graffiti etched into the stone walls. It was especially amusing to be to note that the older markings were all religious in nature (there were lots of depictions of the Virgin Mary), but by the 17th century the prisoners were drawing boobs and willies!
A word of warning – for no other reason than ’this is Italy,’ this museum doesn’t have set opening times and is closed more often than not.
Nobody that I spoke to when I visited actually knew what the schedule was for this museum, so if you do happen to come across it open then you’re in luck!
As far as admission prices, entry to the museum and prison is supposed to be 3 EUR but both times I’ve visited, I’ve been let in for free.
Italy is renowned for good shopping, and Barga is no different.
Inside the walled Old Town you’ll find a range of independent boutique stores selling wonderful handcrafted gifts.
From the cobbler who makes shoes by hand to the saffron shop, which sells everything from saffron cheese to saffron honey and craft beer, you’re sure to find a unique gift for somebody in Barga Italy.
It almost seems as though there is a church on every corner in Barga – for such a tiny town, it really packs in the churches, and you can easily spend a whole day visiting all of them and looking at the wonderful architecture, frescoes and stained glass windows.
After all, you’re in Italy – it almost wouldn’t count if you didn’t go inside a few churches!
Barga art galleries
Barga Italy is home to so many art galleries with constantly rotating exhibitions, often featuring the work of local artists.
New galleries and exhibitions are popping up all the time in Barga, and there are probably more galleries per capita here than anywhere in the world!
One of the best things to do in Barga is to wander round and have a look at all of the art on display.
Teatro dei Differenti
Literally translating to ’theatre of the deviant,’ Teatro Dei Differenti is related to one of the most renowned Italian poets ever, Giovanni Pascoli, who considered Barga to be his adoptive town and gave his famous speech in favour of the Lybian war here in 1911.
Today the theatre has been completely renovated while preserving its original structure, and it functions as a working theatre, home to many literary and cultural manifestations aimed at celebrating both the esteemed Italian poet and local literary, artistic and musical organisations.
If all of that walking around and looking at churches has tired you out then fear not – not far out of Barga centre is La Cantina del Vino, a winery that stocks local wines from nearby independent vineyards.
For 18 EUR, you can sample a selection of wines and enjoy some bruschetta, cold meats and cheeses with honey.
La Cantina del Vino is in a wonderful location with lush mountain views, sweet smelling flowers and very hospitable hosts, Eduardo and Vanda, and wine tasting here is one of my favourite things to do in Barga and something I make sure to do every time I visit.
Still wondering what to do in Barga, Italy?
Darling, drink coffee!
Something that all the Barga residents like to do each morning is wander down to Hotel Alpino in the New Town and enjoy their morning cappuccinos and pastries together as they read the newspaper, share gossip and watch the world go by.
Alpino is always packed full of locals and is in the best location (plus, their custard cream pastry is to die for!).
Not only that but Alpino has been owned by the same family since the end of the 18th century – now if that’s not authentically Italian, I don’t know what is!
Another favourite for a sweet Italian breakfast is Pasticceria Fratelli Lucchesi.
Learn about Brazil’s close knit relationship with Barga
Not many people know this, but Brazil was actually the only South American country to send ground troops to fight overseas during the second world war.
These troops, called the Brazilian Expeditionary Force, consisted of 25,700 men and women who fought in Italy from September 1944 to May 1945.
Right in the centre of Old Barga, a museum aims to educate those in the dark about Brazil’s participation and sacrifices during that time.
Every Saturday morning in Barga, local sellers set up shop and sell their wares to the residents of Barga.
Most of the stalls are clothes stalls but there are also chicken stalls, fish stalls and cheese stalls with humongous wheels of cheese up for grabs!
Even if you’re not interested in buying anything, it’s still fun to wander around, perusing the goods on offer and people watching.
There are tonnes of gelaterias, cafes and coffee shops all around the New Town where the market is held, and so it’s a lovely way to start the weekend.
Go to the telephone booth library!
Next to one of the entrances to the Old Town is a bright red telephone box that actually houses a library!
With the door always open and the books organised according to language (there are a lot of English language books there thanks to the expat community), the telephone box library is a great place to get rid of old books that you’ve been carrying around with you, as well as finding something new to read!
It’s also really cute.
Be at one with nature
You’re in Tuscany, which means you’re never far away from lush green mountains!
Everywhere you look in Barga, you will see rolling hills and greenery as far as the eye can see.
Whether you’d like a relaxed stroll through Parco Kennedy, or a more challenging hike, you will not be disappointed in Barga!
For a list of hikes that you can do from Barga, please click this link.
Go to a festival!
As previously mentioned, there is ALWAYS some kind of celebration or festival going on in Barga.
The dates change every year and new things are always being added to the calendar, so I recommend keeping up to date with Barga News if you’d like to know more.
Barga News is constantly being updated and is the best English language resource for anybody interested in planning out their time in Barga, Italy.
I can recommend the wonderful Battle For Barga festival (pictured below), the Barga Jazz Festival, and the Fish and Chip festival, all held in the summer.
It goes without saying that the best thing to do in Barga is to eat!
You’re in Italy, after all.
Barga is home to lots of great restaurants, from casual bites at Da Aristo, to yummy pizzas at Bar Roma, and the best seafood in town at Giro di Boa.
There aren’t really any international options, but if you want good quality, reasonably-priced Italian food, you really can’t go wrong in Barga.
For more information about the best places to eat in Barga, check out my guide to Barga’s best restaurants.
Getting to Barga, Italy
Where is Barga?!
Barga is in Tuscany, in the province of Lucca, and is located 35km from the actual city of Lucca.
To get from Lucca to Barga, you can either take the train to Barga Gallicano and then get the bus up to the town, or get a bus that goes directly to Barga from Lucca.
The bus takes just over an hour and drops you off right in the centre of Barga, going all the way up to the Old Town, or Old Barga as the locals call it.
If you’re flying, I recommend taking a flight to Pisa.
From there, you can travel to Barga via Lucca, or take a direct train right from Pisa (the airport shuttle in Pisa takes about 5 minutes and goes right to the train station) to Barga Gallicano, followed by the short bus ride.
Alternatively, Florence, Italy, is just a 2 hour drive away, making Barga a great day trip if you are visiting Florence and want a little bit of peace and quiet. It is also easily reached from Cinque Terre.
To check train and bus times, I recommend Trainline.
Things to Do in Barga, Italy | Final Thoughts
This just about concludes my travel guide to Barga Italy.
I tried to include all of the main things to do in Barga, but if I missed anything then please let me know so that I can include it!
That’s about all I’ve got for today, but as always, if you have any questions then don’t hesitate to reach out and ask in the comments below!
Until next time,
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