The Leaning Tower of Pisa has become the symbol of Italy abroad. Most tourists flock to Pisa for a quick visit of the Piazza dei Miracoli, discarding the rest of the town. Though Miracle Square is most definitely worth the trip, it is jam packed with tourists. If you want to get a more genuine Italian experience, away from the bustling crowds, Pisa is the perfect place to explore. Small enough to enjoy in a day, this university town has a lot to offer. It is filled with architectural gems, little boutiques and restaurants. An added bonus: the sea isn’t far!
Pisa, a brief history
Pisa was once one of the most powerful townships in Tuscany. The Marine Republic of Pisa, from the XI to XV century, (read its amazing story on Wikipedia) was both strong at sea and also well protected by its strategic position on land. It’s vast expansion across the Mediterranean allowed the city to thrive economically and become the architectural jewel it is today. The construction of the Field of Miracles, for example, was financed by Pisa’s campaign in Sicily and some of the building materials were spoils of war taken from the Muslims.
Things to do in Pisa
Visit the Field of Miracles
The Field of Miracles (Piazza dei Miracoli in Italian) is a UNESCO heritage site. The cathedral, baptistery, bell tower (the leaning one), cemetery and ex-hospital are the main structures of the piazza. The general sense symmetry and stylistic unity are a big part of its appeal. All the buildings (except for the hospital) are built in the same style and material. The Pisan Romanesque style was influenced by its presence in the Mediterranean and combines western and oriental elements.
During the high season, buying a ticket online is highly advisable to avoid wasting time queueing. Each monument can be visited independently but you can also purchase a ticket for up to three of them. The offer includes baptistery, the Campo Santo and the Sinopie museum). The Leaning Tower’s ticket has to be bought separately for the price of 18 €. Children under 8 cannot enter the tower and anyone under the age of 18 must be accompanied by an adult. A ticket bought for any of the monuments gives visitors a free entrance to the cathedral. Make sure to wear something that covers your shoulders or you might be denied access inside.
If you are pressed for time, decide whether visiting the Leaning Tower is an absolute priority for you. A new group of visitors is let in every half hour and the visit itself last about 35 minutes, so you might want to set aside one to two hours just for the tower.
Off the beaten track
Explore Pisa on foot
The city of Pisa is the perfect size to explore on foot. Pisa has its very own website called Walking in the City, which showcases interesting itineraries that criss-cross the city and reveal its rich history and architectural beauty. Rub elbows with Pisans at these two famous squares.
Piazza delle Vettovaglie
The Supply square (Piazza delle Vettovaglie in Italian) dates back to Medici times and was used by grain merchants. The square is surrounded on all sides by porticos and the Renaissance bodegas are now cafes, restaurant, wine sellers and other little shops. Every morning the piazza hosts a fruit and vegetable market, while in the evening, it fills up with people enjoying an aperitivo.
Piazza dei Cavalieri
The Knight’s square (Piazza dei Cavalieri in Italian) is another Pisa must-see. It used to be the seat of government when Pisa was a Republic. The whole square was transformed under Medici times “to bring order to chaos”. The medieval buildings were connected to one another to balance the general aspect of the square. The Order of Saint Stephen Church, Palazzo della Carovana are but some examples of Renaissance architecture. The latter is now home to the Scuola Normale Superiore, one of Italy’s most prestigious universities.
Go to the seaside
If the weather gets too hot to wander around town, why not make an afternoon stop at the seaside? Pisa’s two beach towns are Tirrenia and Marina di Pisa, just a short 15 kilometers away. While the more laid back travellers can relax on the beach, the active ones can enjoy a cornucopia of water sports. The seaside is actually where you will find most Pisans during the summer!
How to reach Pisa
Pisa, along with Florence is a central hub for flights to Tuscany. The two cities are connected by train and bus (read all about how to to get from Pisa to Florence). If you are planning to explore Tuscany, renting a car is a good option. Bear in mind that parking in Florence isn’t easy and rather expensive so you might want to hold off on renting transportation until you’ve left the region’s capital.
If you want to visit Pisa for a day and you are in a hurry, consider the hassle free option of a day trip to Pisa with a guided a tour. This particular one (both private or shared) includes a visit to the neighbouring city of Lucca, another Tuscan town well worth visiting.