Campo dei Miracoli || creative commons photo by Roberto Ferrari

Campo dei Miracoli || creative commons photo by Roberto Ferrari

Pisa’s famous leaning tower is one of Italy’s most iconic symbols, so it’s not surprising that the city is on most must-see lists – especially for first-time visitors to Italy. You can absolutely see the leaning tower (as well as the sights surrounding it on that impossibly green lawn) in the space of a two-hour layover on a train trip en route somewhere else. I know this, because that’s how I first saw Pisa. It’s the quickest way to check the tilted tower off your list, and it’s also a pretty surefire way to not see the best of Pisa.

The area around the leaning tower is, as you can certainly guess, incredibly crowded almost no matter the season or weather. The shops and restaurants within a block or so of the city’s top attraction are generally overpriced and serve mediocre food. There’s quite a bit of city beyond the tower, however, and you’ll enjoy your experience in Pisa quite a bit more if you spend a little time getting beyond its main draw.

How to Get to Pisa

Pisa’s airport, Pisa International Airport (PSA), is actually the main airport for Tuscany. Florence has an airport, but it’s not as well-served by international airlines as the one in Pisa. A rail station at the airport is under construction, so for now the PisaMover Bus will get you into the city center from the airport.

The main train station is Pisa Centrale. If you’re just in town to see the leaning tower on your way from one city to another, store your excess luggage at the station and catch the LAM Rossa (red) bus, which stops across the street from the station, to the Torre (tower) stop.

What to Do & See in Pisa

Obviously Pisa is on most to-do lists in Italy for its familiar tower. There’s plenty to do and see in the city besides the tower, however, some of which is within sight of the tower (and often ignored by visitors). If you’ve got a little time to explore Pisa, you’ll find lots of places that aren’t overrun with tourists. Of course, since Pisa is a major university city, you may find crowds of students – but that’s a different kind of liveliness altogether.

Here’s an incomplete list of some of Pisa’s most popular attractions:

  • The Leaning Tower of Pisa
  • Duomo
  • Baptistery
  • Museo dell’Opera del Duomo
  • Camposanto Cemetery
  • Keith Haring Mural
  • Botanical Gardens
  • Church of Santa Maria della Spina
  • Church of Santo Sepolcro
  • Palazzo Agostini
  • Piazza dei Cavalieri
  • Guelph Tower

Guided Tours in Pisa

Where to Stay in Pisa

For those of you who choose to stay overnight in Pisa, you’ll want to look for lodging in the historic center – not necessarily right on top of the leaning tower, though, since that’s likely to be more expensive and potentially louder from the day-trippers. The benefit of spending at least one night in Pisa is that you’ll get to see the city without those day-trippers – when any day-trip destination is at its best. You may even consider making Pisa your homebase for exploring Tuscany.

Here are a few things to keep in mind about Pisa accommodation:

  • Star ratings for hotels in Italy don’t correspond to the ones you may be familiar with. Historic buildings that have been converted into hotels naturally have smaller rooms, and this means they have fewer stars – even if they’re top quality and have a good location. Don’t be afraid to check out two- and three-star hotels if the location looks good.
  • There are hostels in Pisa as well as hotels, and some have private rooms, which is another great way to save money on lodging.
  • For those staying longer than a few days or traveling with a group, you might want to consider an apartment rental instead of a hotel room. These can be an especially good idea if you’re keen on having your own kitchen – either to experiment with Italian cooking or to save money by making some of your own meals.

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