.. and why you should love it instead. The ultimate love letter and travel guide to Pisa, Italy.
Italy remains one of my favourite places on the planet. I mean, a country with endless amounts of red wine, pasta and carbs.. Why wouldn’t it be? After my first visit I just keep going back every few years, so imagine my excitement when my family was invited to a wedding in Pisa! We had an incredible time and Pisa was so much more than what I had expected.
Why You’ll Hate Visiting Pisa
I hear a lot of people say Pisa is overrated and nothing more than a tourist trap. But I’ve come to learn that if you ask the same people what they did in Pisa most of them will tell you they only saw the leaning tower and that’s about it.. Honestly, that is equivalent to only visiting Times Square and then rant to your friends about how disappointing New York City was. Is that really fair? I think not. I believe we simply have another example of a self-fulfilling prophecy on our hands. Just think about it:
You hear people say Pisa is an overrated tourist trap of a city. You still want to go when in Tuscany so you schedule in one day in the city, or maybe even just half a day. Since you’ve been told there is literally nothing more to do than see the leaning tower of Pisa, you do precisely that. Maybe you even go a little crazy and check out the other touristy things surrounding the tower before leaving. Then you go on with your life thinking that your theory was confirmed and that Pisa is nothing more than the leaning tower. And you tell your friends about it, who may or may not accept the same theory prior to their visit to Pisa in the future.. You see that vicious cycle? Lets break it.
Why You Should Love Pisa Instead
Look, I’m not here to tell you what to think about Pisa or any other city. You may love it, you may not, and either way thats okay. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion after all. All I want to do is encourage you to leave your prejudice at home and visit Pisa, or any other place, with an open mind. Not only is it the respectful thing to do, it will most likely make traveling in general a lot more enjoyable for you in the future. Lets fight those self-fulfilling prophecies and enjoy all the wonderful things Pisa has to offer.
Because despite what popular opinion online might suggest, there actually is a lot more to do in Pisa beyond the leaning tower. Sure, Pisa might not have as many obvious tourist attractions as the other larger Italian cities, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Take advantage of it instead and enjoy visiting a city with less attractions. Stop comparing Pisa to other cities and take it for what it is: An authentic tuscan city with loads of medieval history and beautiful scenery. Keep reading for my best tips on visiting wonderful Pisa.
How To Get To Pisa
Conveniently located close to the west coast of Italy, Pisa is a great and approachable destination to include on your next Italian adventure. We were in town for a long weekend, which was a perfect amount of time in my opinion. If you only want to see the leaning tower and a few other top tourist attractions then Pisa is definitely doable in a day or two, but I highly recommend you stay a little longer and explore more of the Tuscan city if you have the chance.
1. By Plane
Pisa is easily reached by airplane from all over the world. Galileo Galilei International Airport is located right outside of Pisa’s city centre, making it very convenient for international visitors. Getting from the airport to Pisa is easy & cheap:
TRAIN: The automatic PISAMOVER shuttle train will get you into Pisa Central Station in 5 minutes for €5. The shuttle runs 365 days a year between 6 AM and midnight. Just follow the signs in the airport, impossible to miss.
TAXI: A taxi will get you to your accommodation in Pisa in 5-15 minutes. If you’re a group traveling together it might actually be cheaper to take a taxi than to use the PISAMOVER.
2. By Train
There are plenty of trains connecting Pisa to the rest of Italy, which makes it easy to combine with other destinations. Pisa is only 1 hour from Florence, 2 hours from Bologna, 2.5 hours from Genova and 2-3 hours from Rome. Beware that Pisa has two train stations: Pisa Central Station in the southern part of Pisa centre and Pisa S. Rossore, which is located right next to the leaning tower.
3. By Boat
If you’re traveling the coast of Italy by boat chances are you will stop at Livorno, the closest port to the popular Tuscan cities of Pisa, Florence & Lucca. Even if you only have a half a day to spend, you should really take advantage of your time and travel to one or two places of your choice. Although traveling individually by train is very much possible, the most relaxing thing for you to do is probably to book a reliable bus transfer or private excursion. That way you will be in good hands with experienced locals and will only have to worry about getting those cute Instagram pics.
4. Doing A Tour From Other Cities
Pisa being a compact city in gorgeous Tuscany makes it a popular day trip destination from larger cities in Italy. You can easily arrange a trip by train yourself online, but there is a ton of guided tours available from Florence to Pisa (and Rome) if you want to leave the planning to the professionals.
Where To Stay In Pisa
As I aaalways do in my travel guides, I recommend prioritizing location when choosing where to stay in Pisa. It’s a compact city and if you love walking half as much as I do you should consider a hotel within the city centre. That way you won’t have to worry about taxis or public transportation. If you want a more relaxed vibe you should book a place outside of the city centre, embracing your inner Italian as you enjoy the tiny villages and wonderful nature of Tuscany.
Grand Hotel Duomo: Amazing hotel located a few steps from the leaning tower. The best part is its roof terrace with a panoramic view of Pisa.
Relais Centro Storico Residenza D’Epoca: Lovely hotel in a historic building right by the river Arno, in the city centre. Elegant rooms with individual decor.
Allegroitalia Pisa Tower Plaza: This 5 star hotel has a pool and a view of the leaning tower in the distance, win-win! Only a fifteen minute walk from the city centre.
B&B Casa Betulla: Super cozy and romantic B&B located a 20 minute drive outside of Pisa. Absolutely gorgeous surroundings.
21 Amazing Things To Do In Pisa
Like I said, Pisa is a lot more than a leaning tower.. But only if you allow it to be! Live in the moment, go on adventures and focus on enjoying yourself while discovering where the city takes you. Pisa has some seriously beautiful nature and great history to offer, so don’t waste your time only checking out the leaning tower. Here are some ideas on things to do in Pisa to get you started:
1. Absorb Pisa’s Atmosphere
Have a walk and get to know Pisa while soaking up the city vibes. Practice your Italian skills, learn some medieval history, or enjoy a decent cup of espresso with the locals at Piazza Dante. Just see where the city takes you – it’s such a fun and relaxing way of travel. If you want to take full advantage you could always do a walking tour with a local too.
One of my favorite things about Pisa is how it allows its old buildings to be just that: old. Cracked walls, worn paint and all – facades aren’t the most important thing in the world after all. And it was refreshing to see in this day and age when most cities are busy keeping up with their Instagram friendly appearances.
2. Indulge In Delicious Italian Food
Tuscany is where all diets go to die. Put silly thoughts aside and indulge in all the incredible pizza, pasta, cheese, salami and red wine Tuscany has to offer! I’m pretty sure you’ll get incarcerated for counting calories in Italy, so don’t even think about doing the math. Focus on enjoying the food while you’re there, as Pisa has plenty of great restaurants to choose from. As always in Europe you should keep in mind that its not always the most aesthetically pleasing restaurants that serve the best food. Any true foodies should do a food tour to get the full Pisano experience (and a full belly).
3. Explore Piazza del Duomo
Piazza del Duomo, or Cathedral Square, is an incredible architectural complex in the middle of Pisa. The square is considered sacred by the Catholic Church and is also known as Piazza dei Miracoli, or Miracles Square. It houses four important monuments: the Pisa Cathedral, the Pisa Baptistry, the Campanile (the leaning bell tower) and the Camposanto Monumentale (cemetery).
The four masterpieces of medieval architecture are known to have had a great influence on monumental art in Italy from the 11th to the 14th century. Piazza del Duomo was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 and it’s impossible to visit Pisa without exploring it! The monuments are all an incredible sight not to be missed. Oh, and did you know that Galileo Galilei was baptized in Pisa Baptistery in 1564? I didn’t!
Tip: Avoid the worst crowds by visiting at night, preferably on a weekday. These photos were taken at 8 pm on a Thursday in late May and we almost had the place to ourselves.
4. Admire The Duomo di Pisa From Inside
Not only is Duomo di Pisa an incredible construction to admire from the outside, the interior of the cathedral is breathtaking as well. The black and white marble interior, gilded ceiling and the incredible artwork are things you simply need to see with your own eyes when in Pisa. The Lamp of Galileo and the cupola of the dome were my personal favorites. My family and I had the honor of experiencing a local wedding in this amazing cathedral, which I’ll never forget.
Duomi di Pisa is open to the general public as well. Entrance is included if you purchase tickets to one or several monuments (Tower, Baptistery, Camposanto), the Sinopie Museum or the Opera del Duomo Museum. If you only want to visit the Cathedral you can do that for free, but you’ll have to collect a fixed time free pass at the ticket office.
5. Climb The Leaning Tower
Torre pendente di Pisa, or the leaning tower of Pisa, was built as the freestanding bell tower of the Pisa Cathedral. Due to the soft and unstable foundation in this part of Tuscany the tower began to lean during its construction in the 12th century. After a long pause, construction was eventually completed in the 14th century, causing the tower the lean further in the process. Between 1993 and 2001 stabilizing work helped reduce the tilt from 5.5 to 3.97 degrees, and these days its possible to enter the tower.
Although taking creative photos of the tower from the outside is enough for many visitors of Pisa, I highly recommend climbing the nearly 300 steps to the top of the tower. Not only will you have an amazing view of the city, but climbing the construction itself is a fun experience to cross off your bucket list. The narrow and uneven steps, along with the tilt, made us feel like we’d enjoyed a few glasses of wine too many before entering the tower.. But since only a certain amount of people are allowed inside at a time, the experience felt both safe and comfortable. Just watch your step, haha!
TIP: Only a limited amount of people can enter the tower within a day, so when you purchase tickets you’ll need to reserve a specific entrance time. Do NOT be late, you’ll be refused entry.
6. Find Your Favorite Gelato Flavor
Trying authentic gelato while in Italy is a must, no matter what season you’re traveling in. Pisa has some incredible gelaterias where you can search for your favorite flavor. Come prepared though, you might have to try them all to find your new favorite.. Ahh, the struggle!
7. Admire The Church of Santa Maria della Spina
Along the Arno riverbank you can find The Church of Santa Maria della Spina. This tiny gothic church was built in 1230 and it looks like something from a fairytale. I unfortunately missed out on this on our trip to Pisa, so make sure you don’t! If admiring the church from the outside isn’t enough, it is also possible to enter the church. It’s hard to find reliable information regarding opening hours and prices, but here is your best shot:
Address: Lungarno Gambacorti, east of the Ponte Solferano bridge
Opening Hours: Tues-Fri: 11am–12:45pm and 2–4:45pm, Sat-Sun: 11am–12:45pm and 2–5:45pm
8. Check Out An Art Exhibit At Palazzo Blu
A few steps from The Church of Santa Maria della Spina you’ll find Palazzo Blu: A beautiful building filled with exhibitions of art. A must for anyone with an art interest. Read more about the permanent and temporary exhibitions here.
Address: Lungarno Gambacorti 9
Opening Hours: Tues-Fri: 10am-7pm, Sat-Sun: 10am-8pm
9. Go Shopping
Take a break from sightseeing and get some shopping done in Pisa. Head over to Borgo Stretto and Corso Italia, the main shopping streets in Pisa. Here you’ll find a nice mix of exclusive Italian boutiques and more affordable chains like H&M, Zara and Mango. Via dei Rigattieri and Via Mercanti also house some great stores. Make sure to check out Piazza delle Vettovaglie if you want to experience an old-fashioned food market.
10. Try Some Delicious Local Wine
The best red wine in the world comes from the great country of Italy. Take advantage when in Pisa and try some local wine, I promise you won’t regret it. If you’re a true wine lover you can even do a wine tasting tour in the Tuscan Hills. What can possibly be better than walking among the vines, meeting the owner of a winery and learning about the winemaking process – all while enjoying some delicious tuscan wine? One of the best things to do in Pisa for sure.
11. Walk The Medieval Walls of Pisa
In order to protect Pisa’s cathedral and baptistery from assailants, a large city wall was built in Pisa back in the Middle Ages. Construction of the walls started in 1154 and most of it is still intact to this day. In fact, the walls of Pisa are the oldest city walls in Italy that are almost entirely intact. Pisa’s Walls also have an 11 meter high and 3 kilometer long walkway where the public can enjoy the city from an original prospective! Cool, right? Tickets start at €3 (book here) and you can download a map of the walkway here.
12. Experience Life In Medieval Times
Always wanted to travel back in time and experience how life was in Medieval times? In Tuscany, you can! Well, sort of.. Every spring and summer there are several Medieval festivals you can attend in the charming villages and towns of Tuscany. Read more details about the various festivals here.
13. Take A Break At Pisa’s Botanical Garden
A few short steps from the leaning tower you’ll find the oldest botanical garden in Italy, Orto e Museo Botanico. The garden, which also serves as a museum, is run by the University of Pisa and is free to visit. A great place for when you need break from the busy streets of Pisa. Address: 58 Via Roma
14. See Piazza dei Cavalieri (The Knights’ Square)
While walking the streets of Pisa chances are high that you’ll end up at The Knights’ Square at some point. Known as Piazza dei Cavalieri in Italian, this square is the second main square in Pisa. Back in medieval times it was the political centre, and it later became the headquarters of the Order of the Knights of St Stephen. These days its a landmark and functions as a centre of higher education. As a visitor you’ll appreciate it’s beautiful buildings and sculptures, and it is worth a stop on your walk through Pisa.
15. Hike from Pisa to Lucca
If you’re interested in trekking and nature while traveling, you should consider hiking from Pisa to its neighbouring town of Lucca. The trail follows the historical Nottolini and Medici Aqueducts and is known to be absolutely beautiful. The hike is 25 kilometers long and it takes approximately 7 hours from start to finish. You can read more about the hike here.
16. See The Birthplace of Galileo Galilei
The father of modern science and observational astronomy himself, Galileo Galilei, was born in Pisa in 1564. After many disputes regarding the exact location of Galilei’s birthplace throughout the years, scholars now recognize Casa Ammannati as the birthplace of the famous physicist. There isn’t more to it than a plaque on the building, but its still a cool sight worth checking out when in the area. Address: Via Giuseppe Giusti 24
17. Visit the Birthplace of Leonardo da Vinci
An hour drive from Pisa lies the birthplace of the world famous artist and inventor Leonardo da Vinci. Despite what his last name suggests, Leonardo was actually born in a farmhouse in the tuscan town of Anchiano in 1452, about three kilometres from Vinci. The farmhouse still stands and is possible to visit. There isn’t too much to see inside other than some reproductions of da Vinci’s drawings, but it’s an interesting place to have seen if you’re a history buff.
Why not combine it with a visit to the Leonardo Museum in Vinci? There you’ll find more than 300 of da Vinci’s works and objects, along with more than 50 reconstructed models from the inventor. More info about the exhibitions, opening hours and prices can be found here.
18. Enjoy A Walk Along The River Arno
One of my favorite things to do in Pisa was to simply walk along the river Arno. Observe locals relaxing by the riverbank, other tourists taking pictures, and admire all the old buildings the city has to offer. Who knows, maybe you’ll stumble upon a lovely secret spot on your adventure?
19. Relax At The Gorgeous Beaches of Tuscany
Beach life might not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about Pisa. But the truth is that only a few kilometers west of the city you’ll find an abundance of wonderful beaches along the coast. Calambrone, Marina di Pisa, Marina di Vecchiano and Tirrenia are supposedly the most beautiful ones. Why not get the best of both worlds? Make the coast your base, and head to Pisa when you’re in the mood for sightseeing and shopping. A stay at a gorgeous beach resort like Toscana Charme Resort doesn’t sound so bad to me.
20. Visit Parco di Pinocchio
Did you know that the story of Pinocchio originates from Tuscany? The author of the famous tale that inspired the Disney Classic was Carlo Lorenzini, writing under the pseudonym Carlo Collodi. In the small town of Collodi you’ll find Parco di Pinocchio, an outdoor park dedicated to the story of Pinocchio. The park is located less than an hour drive from Pisa and is easily combined with a visit to Garzoni Garden and Butterfly House.
21. Discover More Of Gorgeous Italy & Go On A Day Trip
Why not see more of gorgeous Italy when you’re in Pisa and go on a day trip? There are loads of options to choose from, and if you rent a car you can plan it just as you wish. There are also a bunch of tours to choose from if you don’t want the extra hassle of renting a car and driving yourself. How about a panoramic tour of Florence on a Vespa, or exploring the picturesque villages of Cinque Terre? Or what about discovering the Tuscan countryside with a tour of San Gimignano, Chianti, Siena and the Monteriggioni fortress? Take your pick!
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