As soon as Pisa is mentioned, it’s famous leaning tower is the first thing that comes to mind. In fact, many times when I mentioned travelling to Italy, it was the first place people asked me if I was going. Clearly I had try to include it in my itinerary somewhere – even if just for the obligatory photo holding up the tower!
But what else is there to do in Pisa? Well, honestly, not a lot! Pisa is the capital of Tuscany, and has a population of around 90,000. It does have a few churches, castles and bridges, like more decent sized Italian towns, but none of them seem to be much visited.
So we planned a quick visit to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Here’s what we found during our visit.
Getting to Pisa
Pisa is ideally located in Tuscany. If you don’t want to stay in Pisa, but still want to see the Leaning Tower, it is perfectly doable as a day trip from many other towns in the area, most notably from Florence.
Full day and half day tours can be booked through many tour operators. I recommend Viator, who have many options for Pisa day tours here
The best option to get to Pisa is by using the fantastic Italian train system. Trains run regularly from Florence and take about an hour. Trains also run from many of the other local towns. We arrived from Siena and departed to Lucca. Visit the Trenitalia website to plan. Tickets can be booked on the website, or at the station. We found the automatic ticket machines at the stations easy to use if there is a long line.
Getting to the Leaning Tower
Once in Pisa it’s a easy 20-25 minute walk straight through the middle of the city to get to the Piazza dei Miracoli, home to the Leaning Tower. We meandered along and took a bit longer than this by stopping and getting a coffee at one of the many little cafes along the way.
You will pass over the Arno River, with some lovely architecture on either side to admire.
If you prefer, there is a bus that ruins from directly outside of the train station. A new bus has started only this week, so is slightly different to when we were there, but it is now the LAM ROSSA (red line) you will need to catch, in the direction of Park Pietrasantina. Buses leave from the train station every ten minutes and takes about 15 minutes. Details can be seen here (website is in Italian but route details are in English)
The Leaning Tower of Pisa
As soon as you arrive you will be drawn to the Tower. It is not crammed between other buildings as many other Italian landmarks are, but out in an open green area with one or two other buildings. There will be a lot of other people around, but there is plenty of space for everyone.
The Leaning Tower was originally built in the12th Century as the bell tower for the neighbouring Pisa Cathedral. It started to sink immediately, and many things have been tried over the years to straighten it. If you look carefully at the very top section, you can see it is not on the same angle as the rest of the building. It was added on in the 14th Century.
It is possible to climb to the top of the tower for €18. There are a maximum of forty people allowed inside at any one time to help with the preservation so there can sometimes be quite a wait.
Once you have finished marvelling at the tower and getting that shot of holding it up, the question is “What next?” There is no doubt you will have noticed the other gleaming white buildings so it’s time to have a look. There are many different ticket options available, so you can choose to visit either 2, 3 or 4 of the surrounding buildings. We chose to visit all four for €8 – the Cathedral, Baptistery, Camposanto and the Sinopie Museum.
While you are buying your tickets, take a moment to look at “The Fallen Angel”.
Entry to the Cathedral is at the opposite end to the Leaning Tower. There can be some lines, but we were lucky to find no one waiting when we entered.
I have to admit I have a bit of a thing for churches. While I am not religious, I find these places fascinating. I love the intricacies of the statues and the overall serenity. If there are stained glass windows, then I am completely taken!
The Pisa Cathedral did not disappoint. It had that feel of reverence to it. It feels larger on the inside than it looks, with the towering ceilings and echoes. As always there was an area off to one side which was open for worship, and it is possible to enter than area for free through a seperate entry if thats your purpose.
Our next stop was the Camposanto. Built back in the thirteenth century, basically this cloister-like building is a big cemetery. The whole floor is covered with rectangular plots under which important people were buried. It is still used today, and we saw some burial dates as recent as the last ten years.
There are some interesting frescoes on the walls, and quite a few statues and sarcophagi on display too. Some smaller chapels off to the sides held religious relics. Most of the text on the floor slabs is difficult to read, either in Italian or some other older script. There is little in the way of other information available to the casual visitor. If you are interested in more information, I think a guide for the Camposanto would provide a fascinating insight.
At the opposite end of the Cathedral to the Leaning Tower is the Baptistery. Unsurprisingly, the Baptistery is also on a slight lean towards the Cathedral, but nowhere near as bad as the Tower.
From the outside it is a stunning domed building, probably the most interesting of all. The inside though was quite plain, with the most interesting aspect some small stained glass windows. It is possible to climb up to the second floor balcony to look down on the pulpit from above. There is also a great view towards the front of the Cathedral from up here too.
The Sinopie Museum
The Sinopie Museum basically houses the “rough drafts” of many of the frescoes in the Camposanto. We were also able to rest for a few minutes while watching a video about the building of the Leaning Tower and the different modifications made since to try to hold it up.
Unless you are particularly interested in the artwork, this will only take a few minutes to browse through, with a little longer if you want to watch the video. All up 30 minutes is all that is required here.
As we walked back, we came across the Botanical Gardens in Pisa. We didn’t go in, but saw afterwards that these are possibly the oldest botanic gardens in the world. (The other claimant is Padua, started one year later, who say that they have the oldest gardens since the Pisa ones have moved location. I actually tend to agree, since a garden sort of has to be in one place, or it’s a new garden, even with the same name.) Entry to the gardens is €4 per person.
If possible, take a small detour off the main thoroughfare to have a look at the other piazza of Pisa, Piazza dei Cavalieri. There are a few other nice buildings to admire, and a nice space to relax in. When we were there though it was not so relaxing as they were setting up for a concert that night. Perhaps check if there is something on while you are in town that may be of interest.
Where to Eat
My suggestion is to make sure you walk a little away from the Piazza dei Miracle to find food. Only a street or so back you will find better food for a cheaper price. We were tired and a little lazy, and ended up eating at Bar & Food 62 on the main thoroughfare at Via S.Maria 62, Pisa. They had a deal for €10 including a starter, main and drink. There were limited options for each course, but since I tend to eat margarita pizzas everywhere and that was on the menu, then this was a good option for us. I had bruschetta for the starter, and a glass of wine. This meal was nothing special, but it was good solid food, so no complaints either.
Another place recommended by the host of our B&B was La Cereria, Via Pietro Gori 33, Pisa. It sounded fabulous, and if we were there another day we would have checked it out. If you try it, I’d love to hear your opinion too.
As we were only in Pisa overnight, and didn’t plan to spend any time in our room, we went with a very cheap option and stayed at Lumiere – Via Leopoldo Pilla 46, Pisa. We had a private room with shared bathroom, with access to a living room, full kitchen and outside area to relax. The rooms were secure, clean and comfortable, and good value since we only paid €40 for the night. The main downside was the location. It was probably a 10-15 minute walk from the translation in the opposite direction to the main sites.
For more options, have a look on Booking.com
It was well worth stopping in to Pisa for the few hours we had. Seeing the Leaning Tower in itself is worthy of a visit. The whole Piazza dei Miracoli is beautiful, and while really popular, there is plenty of space so there is no feelings of overcrowding. There will even be somewhere you can get that crazy photo you have travelled all the way here to get.
Looking for more things to do in Italy? Have a look at my other Italy posts for inspiration.
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