Pisa is known for the Leaning Tower and, yes, this iconic building is worth a visit. But Pisa isn’t just about one tower. Pisa is a small city full of history, culture, friendly locals and great food. All of which make Pisa worth visiting. Below are our 21 reasons to visit Pisa.
However, before we start, here is the first Off the Tourist Treadmill tip for you. If you are visiting Pisa for the day and have luggage, you can leave it at the railway station for 5 Euros a day. The luggage storage facility is open from 07:00 to 21:00 and is located on the first sidewalk, after the railway police on the left.
Where is Pisa?
Pisa is in Tuscany in central Italy next to the Ligurian Sea where the River Arno joins it. Pisa is approximately 1 hour 15 minutes from Florence by car. You can also fly to Pisa or use the train.
What to Do in Pisa?
1. Piazza del Duomo
The Piazza del Duomo is where all the tourists go when they visit Pisa. This place is home to the best four masterpieces of Pisa. In this big green space, you will find the Leaning Tower, San Giovanni Baptistery, Cathedral di Pisa and the Cemetery. Conveniently, they are all very close to each other. You will find out more about those places below. These masterpieces had a great influence on other buildings in Italy. In 1987, the whole piazza was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
2. Leaning Tower of Pisa
The Leaning Tower of Pisa is the most iconic building in the city and one of the most photographed buildings in the world. The Leaning Tower’s slant is now 3.97 degrees following restoration work, whereas it was previously 5.5 degrees. The tower started to lean at the beginning of the construction of the second floor. This was due to the foundations not being suitable to the soil and the weight of the tower (14.500 tonnes). The tower was built on soft subsoil which made it difficult to build high structures. In the tower, there are seven bells and 294 steps on the north side and 296 steps on the south side.
How to visit the Leaning Tower?
Today, the tower is safe to visit but the number of people able to visit at one time is limited to a maximum of 40 and children under 8 are not permitted at all. Owing to the limited number of places, your visiting time in the tower will also be restricted to 35 minutes.
In addition, no bags are allowed in the tower, so you need to leave them in the security deposit. This even applies to camera bags. You can take your camera inside but need to leave the camera bag behind.
On the day of your visit, you need to go to the ticket office and buy your ticket where you will be assigned a time to visit the tower. Be aware, that after you’ve purchased your ticket, you may need to wait 3 hours until your slot. As a result, we strongly advise you to buy your tickets online in advance of your visit. We used GetYourGuide and enjoyed our visit. We opted for the reserved entrance to the Leaning tower and the Cathedral. See below for different tour options.
3. San Giovanni Baptistery
This second masterpiece is less well known than the leaning tower, but the San Giovanni Baptistery is almost as tall as the Leaning Tower and it looks like a marble giant. In fact, it is the largest Baptistery in Italy at 55 meters tall and 100 meters in circumference. In the past, Pisa had an important fleet of ships which dominated the Mediterranean Sea. These were responsible for the introduction of cultural influences from the Islamic world to this Italian building. You will notice some elements of this in the Baptistery’s arches which are decorated in an oriental style.
If you look closely, you will also notice that the Baptistery also tilts slightly (0.6 degrees) for the same reasons as the Leaning Tower.
The best part of visiting the Baptistery is to climb to the upper level where you will enjoy a good view, so get ready your camera.
Another fact about the Baptistery is the fabulous acoustics inside! Wait for the guardian and listen. He appears every half an hour.
4. Catedral di Pisa (Pisa Cathedral)
The third masterpiece of the Piazza is Pisa Cathedral. The Cathedral is just superb and was the first building built on the Piazza. The words imposing, intense, massive and monumental aren’t really enough to describe this piece of art. Built in pure white marble, the Cathedral stands out and you feel very small next to it. The Cathedral is considered as one of the wonders of Italy. As if the Cathedral wasn’t enough, they built a tower bell next to it (the Leaning Tower). It’s definitely worth visiting Pisa to visit this Piazza alone. The Cathedral was the biggest cathedral in Europe for almost a century. The marble façade is so detailed you could imagine it was needlework.
Inside, the splendour doesn’t stop. You will be impressed by the majesty of the building. There are 68 columns, each of which represents a church in Pisa at the time of the construction. One of the highlights inside is the marble pulpit by Giovanni Pisano. Don’t miss the Cathedral and plan your tour wisely because there are some visiting restrictions.
Even though the entrance to the Cathedral is free, you still need to have a ticket to go inside. Just like the Leaning Tower, you will be given a timed slot. In addition, only 90 people can visit the interior at the same time, and you will be allowed to stay 30 minutes.
If there are too many people, they let in the people with a combined ticket first. As a result, we recommend you book in advance with the GetYourGuide link below.
5. Campo Santo
The final masterpiece of the Piazza, but not the least deserving, is the Campo Santo or “Old Cemetery”. This building was built on sacred soil transported to Pisa in the 12th century. This elegant place is made of marble and is designed in a Gothic style and shaped like a large rectangle. In the middle, you will find a grassy area. On each side, there are cloisters with arches around the inner faces. Take time to admire the gravestones and the frescoes.
6. Sinopie Museum
If you want to know more about the Campo Santo and the frescoes, you should make your way to the Sinopie Museum. Inside, you will find all the stories of the original sinopies which were the preparatory drawings for the frescoes.
7. Santa Maria della Spina Church
The Santa Maria della Spina Church is a perfect example of Pisan Gothic style architecture. Santa Maria della Spina was built next to the River Arno, which unfortunately created instability in conjunction with the soft soil. As a result, it was decided to dismantle the church and rebuild it a little higher to protect it. Now the church is open just few days a week to the public. Inside, you can see the Madonna of the Rose sculpture. The church is located on the bank of the Arno River in Lungarno Gambacorti street (bus line 5).
8. Park Migliarino San Rossore
If you want to escape the city, the Park Migliarino San Rossore is the best place to go to discover nature in the 24,000 hectares situated between Viareggio and Livorno. This area has been well protected from urban development, allowing you to reconnect with nature. If you want to enhance your visit, you can visit the park with a horse drawn carriage.
9. Piazza dei Cavelieri (Knights’ Square)
The Piazza dei Cavelieri is the second most important square in Pisa. The Piazza was once used as a political centre and home of the knights. This place is located not far from the Leaning Tower and most tourists miss it. If you are interested in architectural and historic buildings, this place is worth a little detour.
10. National Museum of San Matteo
In the National Museum of San Matteo, you will find works from the medieval period to the 16th century. Antique paintings, sculptures and wooden religious relics are exhibited in this museum. The works of Nicola Pisano and Donatellom are also on display here, as well as a large collection of antique paintings from Berlinghiero Volterrano, Simone Martini and Beato Angelico.
11. San Michele in Borgo
The San Michele in Borgo is one of the oldest religious buildings. This church was built between the 10th and early 11th centuries. When you are in front of the church, and before you enter it, look up above your head and discover its beautiful façade with multi storey columns. Perhaps this will remind you of Pisa’s Cathedral. Inside, you will find a classic church. The highlight of the church is the Crucifix by Nino Pisano.
12. Pisa Food Specialities
Pisa is in Italy and, as with everywhere in Italy, you will find great food. If you want to taste some specialities, you could try these:
Panzanella is a salad of tomatoes, red onions, basil, olive oil with crispy bread on top.
Cacciucco is a Tuscan fish stew with a red wind base, enriched with squid and octopus.
Castagnaccio is a cake made with chestnut flour. The dough is made of chestnut, water, olive oil, pine nuts and raisins. Local variations include other ingredients like rosemary, orange rind, fennel seeds and other dried fruit.
13. Walk Along the Arno River
Walking along the Arno River is always a good idea because there is always something happening on the river. Grab a gelato and enjoy your walk. As you walk, be curious about small side streets you pass. If you see something which grabs your interest, don’t hesitate to check it out or stop for a nice glass of wine or cup of coffee.
14. Rocca della Verruca
If you have time and want to explore the countryside of Pisa and learn how they protected the city, you can go to the Rocca della Verruca. Here you will find a nice panoramic view of the area and the ruins of a fortress. With an elevation of 534m above sea level, this strategic place gives a bird’s eye view of the whole Pisan plain and the Arno River.
15. Bocca d’Arno and Bagno Gorgona
The Marina di Pisa is one of the favourite places to visit for locals and tourists when you want to enjoy the seaside. At the end of the Arno River, you will find a nice harbour, beach and restaurants. This is a very good place if you want to enjoy seafood. In Bocca d’Arno, you will notice small houses with big fishing nets in the mouth of the river where it meets the sea. This is a very pleasant area and is an excellent place if you want to take nice photographs.
Bagno Gorgona is a small, private beach located in the centre of the Marina di Pisa which is ideal for families.
16. Orto Botanico
The Orto Botanico gardens are used by the University and are a safe haven in the city. This garden was the first University botanical garden in Europe. There are plenty of different species of plants to be admired and there is a museum which explains the history of the garden.
17. Pisa with Kids
It is worth remembering that if you are travelling with children, kids under 8 are NOT allowed to go inside the Leaning Tower. However, if your kids are older, the Leaning Tower is a great place to visit. Younger kids can still have fun outside the tower by taking some cool photographs. If you want to climb a different tower with your kids, you can find one in the northwest of the Piazza. Here you will find an old tower in the corner of the old wall.
18. Hidden Gems in Pisa
If you can’t get a ticket for the Leaning Tower, you can visit a different one. The bell tower of the Saint Michael Church is situated near the Arno River in the via delle Piagge.
The Church of San Francesco doesn’t look nice from the outside with its plain white façade but behind this you will find a hidden gem from the 13th century. Inside the church, you will discover a truss ceiling, stained-glass-windows, various chapels, a 70-meter long nave and original 13th centure frescoes.
By wandering around the narrow medieval streets of Pisa, you will find many interesting places to browse and shop. Borgo Stretto is a mainly pedestrianised street which is full of shops, but its buildings also form part of the history of Pisa.
20. Museo Nazionale (National Museum)
Next to the Arno River, the Museo Nazionale is the best museum in Pisa. Inside, you will discover artefacts and sculptures about the history of Pisa, along with original sculptures from the Cathedral and paintings from the 12th and 13th centuries. This is the museum to visit when you are in Pisa.
21. The Guelfa Tower
This Guelfa Tower can be found on the bank of the Arno River and is part of the old city walls. The tower was built to strengthen the defences of the city. Today, you can visit the tower and climb to the top from where you will enjoy panoramic views of Pisa.
Is Pisa Worth Visiting?
Yes, Pisa is worth visiting, even if you just discover the masterpieces on the Piazza del Duomo. However, as you can see, Pisa has more to offer travellers than that and the city deserves to be discovered. The locals are friendly, Italian food is great and the city is full of history and cool things to do.
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