Viareggio, a city located between the Tyrrhenian Sea and the white peaks of the marble mountains, is Italy’s most famous seaside resort. Furthermore, the peculiarity of the center of Viareggio is that it is entirely pedestrian. It is a charming city with Art Nouveau buildings and an elegant and refined environment, reminiscent of Italy in the 1920s of the last century. With over 10 km of sandy beaches and a stone’s throw from Lucca and Cinque Terre, it is the ideal place to spend your holidays, not just in summer. The city is also known for its famous Carnival.
Top Attractions in Viareggio
The long Margherita Walk follows the Viareggio seafront. This is also the most monumental and artistic area of the city; in fact, we find some of the best examples of Liberty and Art Deco architecture, dating back to the early twentieth century. The route is pedestrian and cycle-friendly and winds its way along the beaches and the coastal establishments until it reaches a suggestive lighthouse, also known as a panoramic observation point. A little further on are the docks with small boats. The Promenade gets crowded, especially in the evening, due to many shops, bars, and restaurants. Among the most important monuments, we find the Clock Tower, Mazzini Square, the Statue of Burlamacco, the Burlamacca Canal, and the Palace of the Muses with its rich art collection, as well as the Politeama Theater.
Every year the Margherita Walk becomes the stage for the parades of the famous Carnival of Viareggio.
Villa Argentina is one of the finest examples of Liberty architecture in Italy. It is located in Via Amerigo Vespucci n. 44 and is undoubtedly one of the highest expressions of this artistic style in Versilia. Built in the nineteenth century and enlarged in the 1920s, the Villa has a beautiful main entrance; it is also decorated with multiform tiles and has a garden. The Villa was built along the edge of the pine forest in 1868 and then enlarged by the owner, an Argentine noblewoman, from whom the Villa will then take its name. Overall, the Villa is spread over 1650 square meters, distributed over three levels, mainly intended for conferences and cultural exhibitions. The rooms have splendid stucco decorations and large paintings on the walls. The Villa became a hotel in the 1950s and abounded in the 1980s. In 2001 it was purchased by the Province of Lucca, which began restoration work. Finally, after 13 years of work, it is opened again to visitors.
Gran Caffè Margherita
In Viale Regina Margherita, at number 30, we find another place to visit: the Gran Caffè Margherita. Its characteristic sand color, its turrets colored by yellow and green ceramic tiles, and the balconies’ balustrades are one of the most representative buildings in Viareggio. Originally built in wood in 1902 and survived the fire of 1917, which destroyed most of the bathing establishments, it was rebuilt again in masonry in 1928. The building was born as a bathhouse, complete with changing rooms and services and direct access towards the sea, but this first project will never be realized. Instead, the new intended use has led to changes, including refurbishing the flooring, fixtures, and furnishings. As a result, the Gran Caffè Margherita soon became the most elegant and aristocratic place in Viareggio. The property currently houses a restaurant, café, and bookshop.
Another villa of considerable historical and architectural interest is Villa Paolina, in Via Machiavelli n. 2. There are many stories related to this Villa. For example, it is said that Paolina Bonaparte (Napoleon’s sister) used to bathe naked in front of the villa she had built in Viareggio to welcome her lover, the musician Giovanni Pacini. And also that the Villa was built on the exact place where the body of the famous English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley was found, who died following a shipwreck in 1822. In the same year, in 1822, Villa Paolina was built, the name that it still carries today. The Villa was built in a neoclassical style with central symmetry, typical of a Roman Domus. The façade towards the sea is characterized by a terrace supported by a neoclassical colonnade, with the bedrooms and living rooms all facing the sea. This historic residence in Viareggio is now home to the Civic Museums of Villa Paolina (with the Alberto Carlo Blanc Archaeological Museum, the Lorenzo Viani Picture Gallery, and the Giovanni Ciuffreda Museum of Musical Instruments). It also houses the Archive-Atelier of the painter Alfredo Catarsini and the Culture Offices of the Municipality of Viareggio. Inside, you can also visit the apartments of Paolina Bonaparte, now used for cultural exhibitions.
San Paolino Church
However, from the religious point of view, the Church of San Paolino, in Via S. Andrea n. 221, in the historic center of Viareggio, is worth a visit. This beautiful church was built in 1896 and enlarged after about forty years. We find a beautiful mosaic on a golden background on the facade, which characterizes it and is also embellished with side statues. The facade is flanked by a bell tower, destroyed during the Second World War, and rebuilt in the middle of the last century. The interior has three naves and a carved wooden vault. Also preserved are ancient paintings. The church was elevated to a minor basilica in April 1958 by Pope Pius XII.
Basilica of Sant’Andrea
The Basilica of Sant’Andrea (in Via Sant’Andrea, 55) is also in the city’s historic center but was built in 1836 at the behest of Carlo Ludovico di Borbone Duke of Lucca. The building was completed in 1842 in a neoclassical style. Inside the church, there are works of art and various relics. The church was blessed and opened in 1844 but solemnly consecrated only in 1876. Inside are the remains of St. Antonio Maria Pucci, who worked as a parish priest in the church between 1847 and 1892. The church of Sant’Andrea was erected as a Basilica in 1963. The interior, with three naves, preserves the statue of Our Lady of Sorrows, an object of devotion by the faithful.
Palace of Muses
In Mazzini Square, there is the Palace of the Muses, one of the most beautiful architectural constructions in Viareggio. It was built in 1861, and the name of the Muses derives from the fact that for its construction, the donations of artists including sculptors, painters, poets, and writers were used. The Palace houses the Lorenzo Viani Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art (with 3000 works by around 750 artists from the area and beyond) and the Historical Documentary Center of the Carnival Foundation.
Also not to be forgotten is the Politeama Theater, a building located near the sea. Founded in 1869, the theater was inaugurated in 1902. During the Second World War, the building was seriously damaged by a bomb and rebuilt in reinforced concrete. Recent renovations have contributed to making the building adequate to the building and technical standards of the law. Today the theater is also home to a cinema called OdeonPoliteama.
Monumental Cemetery of Viareggio
For art lovers, a visit to the Monumental Cemetery of Viareggio cannot be missed. The municipal cemetery was inaugurated in 1876. It is a monumental complex enriched with sculptures and works of art from the local marble workshops, active between the 19th and early 20th centuries. The best known funerary sculpture is certainly the ‘Waiting Child,’ in the Barsanti-Beretta family’s chapel, which is the subject of various popular legends handed down from generation to generation. The sculpture was made in 1895 by the Carrarese sculptor Ferdinando Marchetti.
In Via della Foce stands the Matilde Tower, one of the most recognizable symbols of Viareggio and the fulcrum around which the city has developed. It was an observation tower for the city of Lucca and is a typical example of military architecture of the sixteenth century, built to counter possible incursions from the sea. The tower is the oldest building in the city, and for centuries it was the hub of the mercantile life of the area, built using materials from the partial demolition of the old Motrone castle. The tower’s interior is on three floors communicating with each other through an iron staircase and a central well; there are also underground cisterns and a roof terrace. The structure could house a garrison of about fifteen soldiers. Over time the tower progressively changed its function, becoming a prison in the 19th century. Today the tower is used as a hall for exhibitions and cultural events.
Behind the tower is the Darsena, the first suggestive port of the city. The latter is one of the focal points of the city and the seaside life of Viareggio. Here are the bathing establishments, restaurants, bars, and everything synonymous with nightlife.
But we cannot talk about Viareggio without talking about its beaches, known all over the world for being very crowded and at the same time very well equipped. There are numerous bathing establishments along the seafront (over a hundred), and they are not free to enter. They are very suitable for families and groups of friends or single people and are excellent for practicing water sports, including windsurfing. The more central beaches are certainly more expensive than those just outside the center. The bathing establishments of Viareggio are divided among Viareggio north, Viareggio center, Viareggio Darsena-Pineta, Viareggio Pineta (free beach) and Viareggio south (Torre del lago). There are bathing establishments that have a private beach, tents equipped with deck chairs, sun loungers, table and towels, cabins with hot showers and bathrobes and towels, bar, restaurant and beach service, swimming pool with heated seawater, solarium and offer services such as bike rental, parking, children’s play area, pedal boats, and the possibility of renting umbrellas, tents, sunbeds, canoes, soccer fields and more.
We have mentioned the Viareggio Carnival. Therefore, we cannot fail to mention the Citadel of the Viareggio Carnival, a vast thematic area dedicated to masks, the largest in Italy and unique of its kind. It consists of workshops and hangars to construct allegorical chariots, museums, and a historical documentation center, plus several other themed places, including a bookshop. It was inaugurated in 2001 in Via Santa Maria Goretti, where the Viareggio Carnival Museum is also located. The Museum offers a learning path of the historical, artistic, and cultural heritage of one of the major Carnival events in Europe. With the statue of Burlamacco welcoming the visitors, an interesting exhibition and the educational path begins, which includes the illustration of the different phases of the realization of the famous papier-mâché works and the setting up of educational workshops, where you have the opportunity to make a real creative experience, engaging in the processing of papier-mâché. There is also an exhibition of models of allegorical chariots (winners of the latest editions), where the thematic translation in a satirical key of the characters represented is particularly intriguing. In addition, there is no shortage of fascinating reproductions of the official posters of the Viareggio Carnival from 1925 to the present day. Also worth seeing is the part that informs about the history of papier-mâché, used to create carnival ‘creatures,’ an expression of today’s skill and technique.
Carnevalotto Museum of Contemporary Art
Finally, the Carnevalotto Museum of Contemporary Art, located inside the Citadel of the Carnival, closes this place of wonders. The Museum has a collection of contemporary art, including works of painting, sculpture, and graphics from 1987 to today, and signed by the most important Italian and foreign artists.
Viareggio’s Green Areas
The city of Viareggio is also characterized by two large green areas that lend themselves to many activities. We are talking about the Pineta di Ponente and the Pineta di Levante (west and east pine forests). That of Ponente is the green area most experienced by both citizens and tourists. The pine forest of Viareggio is a real green lung in the center of the city. Created in 1747 to defend the inhabited part of the city from the winds coming from the coast, today it is one of the symbols of Viareggio. It is one of the best areas to stay, as the beach is very close and can be reached with a pleasant walk in the fresh air or by bicycle. It also extends up to a few hundred meters from the border with Lido di Camaiore. It is also the ideal place to go for a run or a walk, and the paths inside the pine forest are well marked. Finally, the pine forest of Viareggio is, in the summer months, a place for events.