Explore Pisa, Italy
Explore Pisa a city in Tuscany, Italy with a population of some 90,000 people. Pisa is best known for the world famous Leaning Tower, but those who come here with their mind already made up that the Tower is the only thing to see may miss the rest of the architectural and artistic marvels of this beautiful city.
The half hour walk from the Campo dei Miracoli (Field of Miracles) to the train station runs through a pedestrian street with many interesting sights, shops, and restaurants. The best way to visit Pisa is walking the streets; the city center is very small, so enjoy the sight and the atmosphere.
Pisa would not be Pisa without the University. The city is animated by the students, who organize parties, shows, and cultural events, and fill the central street of the city at night. The University of Pisa has 60,000 students in a city of about 90,000 inhabitants. You’ll notice the student flair in the city once you leave the touristy campo dei miracoli.
Pisa Galileo Galilei Airport is the main airport of Tuscany and is served by several airlines operating hundreds of weekly flights to national and international destinations. Numerous companies offer charter flights to and from a number of European and non-European destinations. The airport is close to the city center – it takes only a few minutes to reach the center.
Many car rental agencies are at the airport. While you will not need a car in the city itself, it can be a good choice if you want to go around Tuscany from Pisa.
What to see. Best top attractions in Pisa, Italy.
Monuments and museums
Pisa is divided into 4 historical quarters. There is much more than the Leaning Tower in the city and several different walking itineraries are available.
- The Piazza dei Miracoli or Field of Miracles is to the north of central Pisa. It’s an UNESCO World Heritage site and contains the city’s most famous sights
- Torre Pendente (Leaning Tower). The structure was originally conceived as the cathedral’s bell tower. Construction began in 1173 and the tower started leaning soon afterwards due to subsidence of the ground underneath its base. A project to keep the tower from leaning more and tipping over finally reached a successful conclusion in 2001, and the tower is again open to those wishing to climb it. Climbing the tower requires a reservation-based ticket. Tickets can be bought for the tower on the day, for a specific entry time. This could be 45 minutes to 3 hours after the purchase time, but there is a lot to see while you wait. It is better if you buy tickets online well in advance. Make the effort to climb, though, and you’ll be rewarded by the view. Curiosity: the famous Pisa leaning tower is not the only one, due of the marshy land that they are built on; there are other 2 towers in Pisa: the Bell Tower of San Nicola Church, near the banks of Arno and the Bell Tower of San Michele of Scalzi Church.
- Duomo di Pisa (Cathedral of Pisa). The splendid cathedral contains artwork by Giambologna, Della Robbia, and other major artists. Fine Romanesque style with double aisles and a cupola, a huge apse mosaic partly by Cimabue, and a fine pulpit by Giovanni Pisano in late Gothic / early Renaissance style. Free timed ticket available from the ticket office edit
- Battistero (Baptistry). Large round Romanesque dome with many sculptured decorations and a fine view up top; climb this if you want a great view with the Leaning Tower visible in your photos. Arabic-style pavement, pulpit by Nicola Pisano (father of Giovanni), and fine octagonal font. At regular intervals, the ticket-checker-guard at the entrance comes into the baptistery and gives an audio-treat of echo-effect. The guard shouts out few sounds which when echoed sound like pure beautiful music. Do not miss it. You can also cast your inhibitions to the wind, stand by the wall, and sing long notes that turn into chords by yourself, as the echoes go round and round the dome of the building.
- Campo Santo Monumentale (Monumental Cemetery). A huge cemetery building with lots of interesting art, including a collection of ancient Roman sarcophagi and splendid medieval frescoes by the “Master of the Triumph of Death”.
- Museo del Opera del Duomo has sculptures and paintings formerly preserved in the Cathedral and the cemetery. Some of the more unusual are bronze griffins from Syria captured by the Crusaders. You can also capture nice photos from the Tower and the Duomo from its balcony.
- Museo delle Sinopie Skipped over by many visitors, this museum is a treat for art lovers. After WWII many of the surviving murals and pieces of murals from Pisa’s Campo Santo were detached from the walls to try to preserve them. It was unexpectedly discovered that the artist sketches underneath survived. These were moved to this museum.
- Piazza dei Cavalieri a small town square with many historical buildings that hosted the political powers of the city in the middle ages and Renaissance, but most of them are not accessible to tourists, as they are now property of the University of Pisa or Scuola Normale Superiore (a prestigious elitary school).
- Palazzo della Carovana. The main Scuola Normale Superiore building, with an elaborate façade, by the important Italian Renaissance artist and architect Giorgio Vasari – who is also said to be the first historian of art.
- Palazzo dell’Orologio (Clock Palace). A XIV century building that has replaced the Torre della Fame (tower of hunger), where the Conte Ugolino della Gherardesca was imprisoned and left to die of hunger with his sons, as cited in the Dante’s Divina Commedia.
- Chiesa di Santo Stefano (St. Stephan Church). A church designed by Giorgio Vasari in the XVI century for the Ordine dei Cavalieri di Santo Stefano (Order of Chivalry of Saint Stephan), a chivalry order founded to fight piracy in 1561.
- Other historical buildings include the Church of San Rocco, the Rectory, Palazzo Carovana and Palazzo dei Dodici.
- Museo di San Matteo, Piazza San Matteo, 1, lungarno Mediceo. This is a fantastic history and art museum, which houses almost all of the original artwork from all the churches in and around Pisa. Although fairly small, it is one of the biggest for Tuscan Renaissance art, hosted in the rooms of the San Matteo monastery. A gem overlooked by most tourists.
- Lungarno Mediceo and Lungarno Pacinotti on the north side of Arno river, Lungarno Galilei and Lungarno Gambacorti on the south side: these riverside streets give a distinctive character to Pisa, especially at night when the lamplight reflects on the Arno river.
- Piazza Garibaldi and Piazza XX Settembre, two opposing town square, one at each end of Ponte di Mezzo (middle bridge), and are considered the center of the city. From Piazza Garibaldi starts Borgo Stretto, an old street with lots of shops that, together with Corso Italia starting in the opposite direction from Piazza XX Settembre, create a pedestrian area (interrupted only by the bridge) that is considered the center of the city. In Piazza XX Settembre you can find the Logge dei Banchi, a building created to host textile market in 1600, and the town hall, in the Palazzo del Comune.
- Santo Sepolcro, on Lungarno Galilei, a Romanesque octagonal church with conical spire by Diotisalvi, who also built the baptistry – a Templar church, striking and forceful. Usually is not open to the public.
- Ussero Café founded on 1775, lungarno Pacinotti 27. A monument to Italian culture in the 1400’s Palazzo Agostini, on Lungarno. In 1839, it was seat of the meetings of the first Italian Congress of Scientists.
- Santa Maria della Spina. A very small Gothic church on Lungarno Gambacorti built in 1230 to house a thorn from Jesus’s crown; it’s considered one of the best expressions of Italian gothic. It is so small it moved from the river of the Arno, in 1800, to a place some meters above, one stone at time, to protect it from flooding. Usually it’s not open to the public.
- Giardino Scotto, on Lungarno Fibonacci at the end of Lungarno Galilei, is a fortress converted to a public park which opens in summer for open air cinema, music shows and other events.
- La Cittadella (The Citadel). A fortress at the end of Lungarno Simonelli, built to guard the access by the river Arno and the shipyard in the middle age, when the sea was closer to the city.
- University botanical garden, via Luca Ghini 5, is the first university botanical garden of Europe, created by the will of Cosimo de Medici in 1544. It is open weekdays.
- Fine Romanesque churches – San Paolo a Ripa d’Arno, San Michele in Borgo, San Paolo with a sculpture gallery inside, Sant’Andrea – not all are open every day; double-check the hours if you want to visit.
- Tuttomondo, Keith Haring mural. Keith Haring visited Pisa and fell in love with the town, so he decided to paint this amazing mural as a gift to Pisa. Though extremely large, it is easy to miss so look out for it; it is located between via Giuseppe Mazzini and via Massimo D’Azeglio just off Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II.
What to do in Pisa, Italy
- On June 16th Pisa holds the Luminara festival, held for the patron saint’s day (San Ranieri). At sunset, all the lights along the Arno are dimmed and more than 10,000 candles are lit, which makes for some spectacular sights from the Ponte di Mezzo. Various activities are organized in the streets and the night ends with a big fireworks.
- Another summer attraction is the Gioco del Ponte (Game of Bridge), a historical manifestation held yearly on the last Sunday of June, in which the two sides of the city (Tramontana and Mezzogiorno, geographically split by the Arno river) participate in a historical procession, with 709 walk-ons, then challenge each other to a physical match in which their teams, each composed of 20 members, try to conquer the “Ponte di Mezzo” (the main bridge in Pisa) by pushing a trolley in order to force the rival team off the bridge.
- For nightlife, there aren’t many clubs or live music places in Pisa: the usual night in Pisa is having a dinner of pizza or a cheap kebab, having a beer in Borgo Stretto, or Piazza delle Vettovaglie or a pub in the surrounding areas, and having a walk in Piazza Garibaldi and Lungarni, where the “spallette” (the low brick walls around the river) are full of students.
Casciana Terme: the thermal water used at Casciana Terme since ancient times, has in recent years seen its applications extended to modern rehabilitation therapies, cardiovascular and respiratory treatment, in the improvement of the digestive functions and their treatment, because its natural, relaxing action enables patients to regain their functional equilibrium and the enjoyment of pleasures they had lost.
San Giuliano Terme: Water with beneficial effects and calciferous magnesic sulfate water, naturally rich in vital curative elements, gush forth at the foot of Mount San Giuliano at the Spa out of different springs and are gathered in two groups called the “East Baths” (40° C temperature) and the “West Baths” (38° C temperature).
What to buy
The central shopping area is centered around the Corso Italia, between the railway station and the Ponte di Mezzo (the central bridge) and also in the Via Borgo Stretto, north of the bridge. However, many specialized shops are sprinkled around the city.
The area around the leaning tower is geared toward tourists: There are lots of small souvenir kiosks, stands and “flying merchants”, selling all kinds of souvenirs from small statues to hour-glasses – of course the general motif is the leaning tower.
Every two weeks there is a bazaar with quite cheap books, records and old household items.
What to eat
As a general rule, try not to eat near the Leaning Tower where prices are high and quality low. Head instead to the central area (5-10 minutes walking from Piazza dei Miracoli): you can find very good, cheap restaurants there. For example, there are excellent, friendly and reasonably priced cafeterias in the busy small vegetable market, Piazza delle Vettovaglie. Also Via San Martino, close to the south bank of the river, offers some places with good quality and low price.
Try some of Pisa’s famous biscotti (biscuits or cookies). Bakeries all through town will sell multiple varieties, for a low price.
For the budget option, if coming from the Airport, there is a Coop supermarket on the left, on Via Pasquale Pardi.
What to drink
During summer nights, everybody stays around the banks of the rivers, sipping drinks bought from the several bars in the area. A few very good wine bars are also available for colder, winter nights.
Where to sleep
The Pisa hills were already a popular destination for enlightened travellers in the first half of the 1700s, due mostly to the popularity of the thermal spa of San Giuliano, which quickly became a fashionable spot for the upper classes. The mansions on the road along the hills, already renowned as places of idleness and relaxation in the heart of the countryside, soon assumed the characteristics of true leisure resorts.
- You can travel by train to this other beautiful Tuscan city.
- Very easily reachable by train from Pisa Centrale.
- Cinque Terre by train to La Spezia and Genova
- Volterra by bus
- Calci is very easily reachable by bus. A charming medieval village nestled in the Pisan Mountains. The Charterhouse of Calci and the Museum of Natural History (home to the largest collection of whale bones in Europe) are among its attractions.