You could easily spend a week or more in Florence and not see everything, but most travelers don’t want to do that – especially when so many great day trip options abound. By far the most popular day trip from Florence is to Pisa. These two cities are historic rivals, and Pisa was once an equally-powerful city-state to Florence. Today, Florence gets the lion’s share of the overnight visitors while Pisa gets all the day trippers, every single one of whom is headed straight for the city’s famous leaning tower.
Whether you’re one of the day trippers headed to see the leaning tower or you’ve opted to make Pisa your homebase for part of your Italy trip, here’s the information you’ll need to know to plan your travel day. I’m including a bit about going in each direction, for ease of planning.
Note that although there is technically a way to get from Florence to Pisa or Pisa to Florence by bus, the service is usually between airports rather than city centers. The main reason I’m skipping bus information here, though, is that the train is so easy and inexpensive that there’s really no reason to make life more complicated by trying to make the bus work.
You all know what a fan I am of Italian trains, right? Then it shouldn’t surprise you that I think taking the train to get to Pisa from Florence is the best option. The one-way trip takes about an hour on an Italian regional train. I love the high-speed trains and take them whenever I can, but Pisa isn’t on their route map. Because they’re regional trains, ticket prices are inexpensive – between $10-12 usually – and no seat reservations are required. Service from Florence to Pisa is frequent, sometimes up to two trains per hour from Florence Santa Maria Novella (SMN) to Pisa Centrale.
If you’re taking a day trip, make sure you know the return schedule before you leave the train station so you don’t get stuck.
Driving the 51 miles (82 km) can take about an hour 10 minutes, barring traffic, and if you’ve already rented a car and want the ability to take some spontaneous diversions along the way then that’s a viable option. As is the case with any historic Italian city center, though, Pisa and Florence are both challenging to drive through, with narrow streets and a distinct lack of parking spaces. It’s also really easy to forget about mundane things like rush hour when you’re on vacation, but – let me assure you, from personal experience – trying to get back into an Italian city during rush hour is a headache to avoid if you can.
Undaunted? Then I’d recommend drivers in Italy access to a GPS unit in your rental car and, if you’re a planner like I am, getting an idea of the route beforehand on a site like Via Michelin or Rome2Rio.
My preference for the train over any other form of transportation remains for getting from Pisa to Florence. Again, the journey is about an hour and ticket prices on the regional trains usually run between $10-12. There are about 45 trains on most days leaving Pisa Centrale and arriving at Florence Santa Maria Novella (SMN) station.
The same warning from the section above on getting from Florence to Pisa holds here – if you’re taking a day trip, don’t leave the station without knowing the schedule for return trains so you can get back to homebase at day’s end.
For travelers who have already gotten a rental car and plan to drive for the entire trip through Italy, it doesn’t make sense for me to say it’s better to take the train from Pisa to Florence (although it is). I just want drivers to be prepared for the challenges of driving in the historic center of a city that seems decidedly anti-car sometimes. Be especially aware of parking rules – ask your hotel for recommendations on where to park, if you can.
Those of you who don’t want the hassle of navigating Tuscany’s roads or railways are in luck, because there are eleventy billion choices for day trips in Pisa from Florence, and plenty of day trips in Florence from Pisa, too. Here are just a few you might consider.
There are affiliate links below, which means I get a little something if you book one of these tours – but it won’t cost you anything extra. Thanks.