When travelling throughout Italy, it makes sense to head to Pisa even if it’s only for a short while. After all, the leaning tower of Pisa is such an iconic image when thinking about Italian adventures, that it seems worthwhile to add Pisa to your travel list.
I’m not going to lie to you – Pisa is a very small town so you shouldn’t feel the need to spend days here (unless you want to spend a full day shopping in the independent boutiques dotted around the centre). However, if you are only planning to go to marvel at the leaning tower, Duomo and Baptistry and do a little bit of shopping, then a half day spent here is more than enough.
During my Italian adventures, my main base was Florence so my day in Pisa was totally possible by hopping on a train for an hour. In fact, Pisa was so small that I actually combined a few hours in Lucca with my few hours in Pisa too – all totally doable!
Here’s all you need to know about spending an afternoon in Pisa…
How To Get There
Pisa, located within the Tuscan region of Italy is easily accessible by train from major cities. Florence to Pisa by train takes only an hour, so you may want to consider making Florence your base like I did. Look here for prices for Italian rail fare.
Pisa also has its own airport, which major airlines like Ryanair, Easyjet and British Airways fly to from many cities across the UK. I was able to fly from Bristol to Pisa in just a few hours and then hop on a train to Florence to get to my base hotel. Aside from the UK, there are many more major cities flying you to and from Pisa, including Amsterdam, Madrid and even as far afield as New York City.
As with most main destinations in Italy, it is also possible to rent a car in Pisa. However, based on my own experiences of how fast, cheap and reliable Italy’s rail network is, I’d urge you to consider getting around by train rather than car. After all, we’re all about saving the planet right now, aren’t we?
What To See And Do
With Pisa being quite a small town, I suspect your main attraction pulling you in is to see the Campanile (Leaning Tower), Duomo and Baptistry. Now, all these places just so happen to be very conveniently located on the same plot – your day just got easier!
From the train station, you’d be walking into town for about 20 minutes before you start seeing the boutiques, bars and cafes on offer. Keep walking through all of this and take a left along the main road Via Cardinale Pietro Maffi. After walking along this main road for just a few minutes, you will suddenly be hit by tourist shops and hundreds of people, so you’ll know you’re in the right place.
Keep on walking and there you will see the three buildings facing you in all their intricate Pisan glory; (plus you’ll likely spot tons of people doing the “I’m pushing the tower over” photography trick – how original, right)?
I’d urge you to take your time wandering around these buildings. As this is your main attraction here, you have plenty of time to take in all sides of this plot, both inside and out.
But be prepared for vast queues! There are public loos here, but I was easily waiting in a queue for 30 minutes before I had the chance to pop inside, so you can imagine what the entrance queues for the buildings are also going to be like.
Insider Tip: Head to the opposite side of the park from where you arrived. This will be the best shot of the buildings as it really does look like the tower is just popping its body around the other buildings. It really is quite a comical sight!
Once you’ve spent your time wandering around these buildings and laughing at the photo posers, your next stop should be to head back into the centre to check out those boutiques you saw earlier. Pisa is a good place to come for shopping (although it has nothing on Milan), but whilst you’re here, it makes sense, right? And besides, you’ll need to work up your appetite ready for some delicious Italian food…
Where To Eat
My hidden secret of food in Pisa is a little place that is off the beaten track. I actually stumbled across this place by accident as I was getting lost in the small Italian side streets, but it was the canopied tables outside hidden behind bushes that drew me in. This place is Al Signor Mimmo along Via Domenico Cavalca. On the surface, it just looks like an old Italian building but it’ll be the white canopies and colourful chairs outside that will attract you.
The food here really was delicious and the staff super friendly. It was the perfect place to come for some homemade lemonade and a stonebaked pizza (yes, I was a little un-original about my food choice)! But they were also serving fresh seafood (including octopus and salt cod) as well as plenty of meat dishes – they even had boar on the menu! Just take a look yourself!
You are more than welcome to sit inside if you wish, but my advice would be to choose a table outside next to the bushes. The canopy overhead will keep you in the shade ready for your own siesta and the bushes around will stop nosy onlookers staring at you whilst you eat. Bon appetit!
Why Does The Leaning Tower Lean?
Okay, now here is the “scienc-y” bit so that you can act smart around your friends.
Work on this building started in 1173 but the geniuses behind the design had started building on sandy silt subsoil. Basically, they chose to build on a clay-like soft substance – not a good plan for a building that has eight storeys, or any building for that matter.
By 1274 (three storeys in), the tower had already started to lean and continued leaning until some very smart people intervened to decrease the lean by 38 cm … allowing adventure seekers such as yourself to enter the tower once again.
Pub Quiz Moment: Did you know that Galileo climbed to the top of the leaning tower to conduct experiments on the velocity of falling objects? Well, now you do.
Well, there you have it – my guide to spending a rambling afternoon in the Pisan sun, eating delicious Italian food and learning a little bit about the science behind why the tower leans.
What did you think? Have you been to Pisa? Would you go? And would you be one of those people “leaning” on the tower for a photo? Let me know in the comments…
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