Viareggio earned its place on the international tourism circuit in the 1920s for its spectacular beaches. The coast is lined with private beaches where you’ll have to pay a fee to rent beach chairs and umbrellas – but when you’re under the Tuscan sun watching the Tyrrhenian Sea waves roll in, you’ll understand that it’s well worth it! The beach has a pleasant promenade lined with shops, cafes, and restaurants. In the early evening, the promenade is where you’ll find locals and tourists strutting their stuff in the nightly passeggiata. There’s no official cruising area but local culture is very gay-friendly. Gays have been known to hang out in the nearby Pineta di Ponente (Pinewood Park), just two blocks up from the beach.
Lake Massaciuccoli is a shallow body of water and protected wetland bird sanctuary, just inland from Torre del Lago, two kilometers from the beach. Bird-lovers will enjoy the bird-watching blinds and signs posted about the area's bird species, including both local and migratory birds from Northern Europe.
Torre del Lago’s recent emergence as a major gay tourist destination is owed largely to Lecciona Beach, a fabulous stretch of sand along the Tyrrhenian Sea. The beach is well-known as a gay hangout and is very cruisey but there are no nudist areas. Flanking the shore are a series of gay and gay-friendly restaurants and cafes, as well as bars and clubs where you can dance the night away next to the sea.
Viareggio’s Carnival is considered one of the biggest and most important in Europe, with a tradition that goes back to 1873. The Carnival Citadel Museum collects the history of the carnival through exhibits of past floats, masks, postcards and other memorabilia. During the week, the Citadella Carnevale (literally, Carnival Town) is where carnival floats are designed and built. The museum is open to the public on weekends and admission is free.
Fans of romantic poetry will want to visit the town’s Piazza Shelley in Viareggio, named after the English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, who drowned off the coast nearby in 1822. There’s a bronze statue of Shelley in the square.
Torre del Lago isn’t far from Pisa, making it an idea day trip. The city is best known for its famous leaning tower, but it has plenty of other attractions as well, including gay clubs MyKeta Friday nights, and Colors Disco Pub (via Ottaviano Mossotti, 10) Wednesdays through Sundays.
Torre del Lago’s other major claim to fame is its most famous resident, opera composer Giacomo Puccini. Puccini lived in Torre del Lago from 1891 to 1921, which covers the time when he wrote his most successful operas: Tosca, La Bohème, and Madame Butterfly. The villa he built there in 1900 now serves as a museum of his life and works, and even contains a small mausoleum where he, his wife, and his son are buried. Forty-minute long guided tours of the villa are offered by museum staff.
In July and August, the Puccini Festival produces his operas in the open-air theatre by the lake. The popular festival is a must for true opera lovers.