An old maritime republic, Pisa retained much of the old pride from those medieval times when the Saracen raids made it mandatory for the city to become a naval power, launch its thriving trades and expand its control to other territories such as Sardinia, Palermo and Reggio Calabria.
One of the first day trips from Florence visitors usually take, Pisa is a fascinating destination in Tuscany, and a Pisa day tour one of the favorites. Of course, only one day in Pisa is not enough to explore everything the city has to offer, especially if you are taking a Rome to Pisa day tour with a 3-hour train ride to get there. But it’s still better than nothing and if you do have some spare time, the city is totally worth it. And unless you are staying in Tuscany longer than what a classic 2-week Italy itinerary would normally include, this is pretty much what you can afford.
Pisa boasts a long and stormy history. From its port status during ancient Roman times to the battles with the other naval powers Genoa and Venice to the organization of the city life, but trust us, it’s a charming beginning. Often overshadowed by the heavy presence of the more famous Florence, Pisa is also a top destination in Tuscany.
If you are privileged enough to afford some more days in this beautiful Italian region, do plan a trip to the hometown of Galileo Galilei, astronomer, mathematician and father of modern science, and of the great mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci, you won’t regret it.
- Top things to do in Pisa
- Best time to visit Pisa
- How to get to Pisa
- How to get around
- Where to eat
- Where to stay
Best Places To Visit In Pisa
The Leaning Tower
The famous 55-meter-tall Torre di Pisa is located next to Pisa Cathedral (Duomo di Pisa) in Campo dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles) and was used as the cathedral’s bell tower.
Its leaning structure is considered by some as an architectural miscalculation while others believe the soft soil is the cause of its leaning a few meters toward the south. It was built between the 12th and 14th centuries by Bonanno Pisano, Gherardo di Gherardo, Giovanni di Simone and Giovanni Pisano.
Whatever the reason, this tower made the city famous all over the world and you can’t miss it on your day trip from Florence to Pisa. If you want to go up the tower, make sure to reserve the ticket online, unless you are there off-season then you can walk to the ticket office and buy your ticket.
Leaning Tower of Pisa ticket: 17€ on-site, 18€ if you book online, official website http://www.opapisa.it/en/tickets/prices/. Children under 8 are not allowed to climb the tower and under 18 must be accompanied by an adult. You need to leave your bags in the cloakroom.
Leaning Tower opening hours: 8.30 am-10 pm in summer, 9 am-7 pm in autumn, 10 am-4.30 pm in winter.
Official website: http://www.opapisa.it/en/ for more information on opening hours in the different seasons and changes due to renovation works.
Il Duomo di Pisa
Pisa Cathedral was built in the Roman-Gothic architectural style between the 11th and the 12th centuries. The construction underwent two phases, one with the work of architect Buscheto mainly for the nave and the interior, and the second one when architect Rainaldo brought about the expansion of the building and took over the works of the facade.
A fire in the 16th century destroyed much of the cathedral that had to undergo renovation works for the roof, the bronze doors of the facade.
Pisa Cathedral Admission: The admission is free. You can buy a ticket for other monuments in the square and you get a free pass to the cathedral, not subjected to a fixed time. If you want to visit only the Cathedral, you still need the pass from the ticket office on the site, even if it’s free.
Pisa Cathedral opening hours: 10 am-7 pm.
Battistero di San Giovanni
The Baptistery of Saint John was built between the 12th and the 14th century by masters such as Diotisalvi and Nicola Pisano and his son Giovanni. With 12 columns and more than 107 meters in diameter, it’s considered Italy’s, and Europe’s, biggest baptistery.
Battistero di San Giovanni admission fee: The Baptistery is part of the Campo dei Miracoli, for all the landmarks how it works is: 1 landmark, 5 euro; 2 landmarks, 7 euro; 3 landmarks, 8 euro. You can always add the Cathedral because it’s free but you need to include it in the pass otherwise you won’t be able to go through the ticket barrier.
Battistero di San Giovanni opening hours: 8 am-10 pm in summer, 9 am-7 pm in autumn, 10 am-4.30 pm in winter.
Campo Santo, also known as “Cimitero Monumentale” (Monumental Cemetery)
The Monumental Cemetery is next to the Duomo and the Baptistery in the same Campo dei Miracoli. It was the last monument added to the complex and one of the things to see in Pisa.
It was built in 1277 by Giovanni di Simone, the purpose of this cemetery was to move there the tombs previously hosted in the cathedral. The large grass-covered, roof-less outside is said to be a huge reliquary containing the sacred land brought from Palestine in 1146 during the Second Crusade.
Cimitero Monumentale di Pisa admission fee: The Monumental Cemetery is part of the Campo dei Miracoli, for all the landmarks how it works is 1 landmark, 5 euro; 2 landmarks, 7 euro; 3 landmarks, 8 euro. You can always add the Cathedral because it’s free but you need to include it in the pass otherwise you won’t be able to go through the ticket barrier.
Cimitero Monumentale di Pisa opening hours: 8 am-10 pm in summer, 9 am-7 pm in autumn, 10 am-4.30 pm in winter.
Museo delle Sinopie
A sinopia is the drawing on the first layer of the plaster when making frescoes. The Museum of the Sinopie is a display of how artists worked and jotted down the first sketches of their frescoes.
This one-of-a-kind collection is one of the fascinating things to do in Pisa if you are an art lover. It was discovered almost by chance when the bombings on Pisa during World War II caused a huge fire in the Campo Santo monumental cemetery. This is when citizens were forced to pull the frescoes from the walls in the hope to save them and the amazing “hidden” part of the frescoes was revealed.
Museo delle Sinopie admission fee: It’s part of the Campo dei Miracoli. For all the landmarks how it works is: 1 landmark, 5 euro; 2 landmarks, 7 euro; 3 landmarks, 8 euro. You can always add the Cathedral because it’s free. But you need to include it in the pass otherwise you won’t be able to go through the ticket barrier.
Museo delle Sinopie opening hours: 8 am-8 pm in summer, 9 am-7 pm in autumn, 10 am-4.30 pm in winter.
Museo dell’Opera del Duomo
The museum of Pisa Cathedral is located in a former 15th-century convent and gathers sculptures, paintings and other types of artwork that were scattered in the different buildings of Piazza Duomo.
It’s a fascinating collection from a diverse range of artists, styles and centuries. This is what to do in Pisa if you are an art lover.
Museo dell’Opera del Duomo Address: Piazza dell’Arcivescovado 6.
Entrance fee: Included in the Cathedral entrance, which is free of charge.
Visit Piazza delle Vettovaglie
This picturesque piazza is the historic and oldest center of Pisa. Less than 15 minutes’ walk from Piazza Duomo, it originally was the city hub for the local market of fruits, veggies, butchers, fish sellers, bakeries and all the supplies citizens would need on a daily basis. Today, it kept its original purpose and the local food market still takes place every day.
It was built when the city was under the rule of Florentine Medici family in the 16th century, who decided to use the ancient Piazza del Grano (Wheat Square) to build Pisa University.
The piazza is surrounded by arches that in the evening become a great place for aperitifs and dinner. Not far is Borgo Stretto, one of Pisa’s narrowest streets and a favorite to take a walk under its arches.
Step inside Palazzo Reale
The Royal Palace is one of the places to visit in Pisa to know more about its history. Originally the residence of the Caetani noble family that built it in 1558, in the centuries it became the palace of the Medici clan, of the Lorena family and finally of the Savoia, the last royal family in Italy.
Between 1583 and 1587, Cosimo I de’ Medici commissioned a renovation and many more took place throughout the centuries.
Today, the palace hosts the National Museum that displays the artwork belonging to the different royal families as well as from private collections.
Palazzo Reale Address: Lungarno Pacinotti 46.
Palazzo Reale Entrance Fee: 5 euros.
Palazzo Reale Opening Hours: Every day except Tuesday, Sunday and holidays 9 am-2 pm.
See the Lungarni
For more activities in Pisa, walk or cycle along its Lungarni. These are the roads that coast the Arno river, made all the more beautiful by the historical buildings all along these streets.
One of the most famous to visit is the Lungarno Mediceo, where you can the Medici Palace and the church of San Matteo in Soarta, but also the Lungarno a Mezzogiorno and the one in Tramontana.
This is one of the things to do in Pisa both day and after sunset when they are lit up for the night and locals hang out in the many bars and restaurants.
Keith Haring’s “Tuttomondo” Mural
Keith Haring painted the famous “Tuttomondo” mural on the exterior wall of Sant’Antonio church in 1989.
This is the artist’s last public project devoted to the harmony men should reach in the world, among each other and with nature. Street art fans can’t miss it.
Keith Haring Mural address: Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II, 18.
Piazza dei Cavalieri (Knights Square)
After seeing the main landmarks of Piazza dei Miracoli complex, head to 16th-century Piazza dei Cavalieri. This historical piazza was commissioned to Giorgio Vasari by Cosimo I in 1558 because there was the need to reorganize the local buildings. According to Cosimo I, in fact, the area was “chaos”.
Some of the palaces you will see here are Palazzo della Carovana, Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri church and Palazzo della Canonica, used to accommodate the Knights/priests of the Order of the Knights of Saint Stephen. There are also Palazzo del Consiglio dei Dodici, Palazzo Pluteano and San Rocco church.
One of the most famous buildings is Palazzo dell’Orologio, the result of merging two medieval buildings in the 17th century. One of these buildings was the infamous “Torre della Fame”, “Hunger Tower”. It’s also known as Torre del Conte Ugolino because, in 1288, the count Ugolino della Gherardesca was sentenced to die from hunger and thirst along with his sons and nephews.
This famous historical prison has been recently open to visitors so you can also go inside. Admission is free.
Museo Nazionale di San Matteo
The National Museum of San Matteo displays the artwork from Pisa’s most important civic and religious buildings and palaces built between the early Middle Ages and the 16th century.
Some of the masterpieces displayed in the museum are by Nicola and Giovanni Pisano, Donatello and Andrea della Robbia, as well as a rich collection of paintings from the 16th to the 18th century by famous painters such as Giunta Pisano, Berlinghiero, Volterrano, Simone Martini. From the 15th century, you can view the work of great painters such as Beato Angelico, Ghirlandaio, Masaccio, Gentile da Fabriano and Benozzo Gozzoli.
If you are an art lover, this is definitely one of the places to visit in Pisa.
National Museum of San Matteo address: Piazza San Matteo in Soarta, 1
National Museum of San Matteo admission fee: 5€, free every first Sunday of the month.
National Museum of San Matteo opening hours: Daily 8.30 am-7 pm on weekdays, 8.30 am-1.30 pm on Sundays and holidays. Closed on Monday, January 1st, May 1st, December 25th.
Try traditional food
Being a maritime city, Pisa traditional cuisine counts several fish-based dishes such as the Pisan-style stockfish and baccalà (dried and salted codfish). But the local gastronomy also shares the dishes of the other Tuscan towns.
On the menus of Pisa restaurants, you can find the “minestra di pane”, bread soup with local veggies, especially the Tuscan black cabbage, and “ribollita”, which is a bread soup cooked twice. Among the other dishes are the famous tomato soup (pappa al pomodoro) and rice with truffles (risotto al tartufo), some pretty famous Italian foods.
Take a day trip
If you are based here, among the things to do in Pisa is also to take some day trips to other places in Tuscany. By train, it is pretty easy to reach towns like Siena and Lucca. If you are renting a car, you can also explore the Tuscan countryside and regions like Chianti, famous for its wineries. If you prefer to sit and relax and leave all the logistics to a local guide, book a private tour to San Gimignano, Siena, and Chianti region or a half-day wine-tasting tour to the Tuscan countryside.
Another favorite and easy day trip from Pisa is to the Cinque Terre. It takes about an hour and a half by train and you can reach each of the small towns on foot hiking or with the local train Cinque Terre Express. You can also book a private day tour to the Cinque Terre from Pisa.
Go to the beach
One of the things to do in Pisa if you are traveling in summer is to visit its beaches. Probably not something to do if you are traveling from Florence to Pisa and back in a single day, but worth knowing if you stay longer.
Pisa is connected to the coast with public transport, and the beach is 15-20 minutes far from the city. Among the best beaches to visit near Pisa are the sandy Viareggio, 15-minute train ride, or the pretty town of Castiglioncello.
With its rocky and sandy beaches, it’s some 30 minutes ride with the train. Another beach near Pisa that you might want to consider is Marina di Pisa, at some 30 minutes (12km) ride with the bus from Pisa.
Best time to visit Pisa
Pisa, like the whole Tuscany region, has all the four seasons. In some parts, in winter it snows, so a good choice if you are looking for a skiing holiday. From mid-May/June to September the weather in Pisa can get pretty hot and since summer is the high season, the city is pretty crowded.
The season I recommend for visiting Pisa is Spring. From March to May, the weather is very pleasant and the city is not too packed with tourists yet. Wandering the city on foot won’t be hard and queues in the landmarks won’t be too long.
How to get to Pisa
The easiest way to reach Pisa is by train. The Italian railway network is pretty widespread, so you can find trains to Pisa from many cities such as Florence, Rome, La Spezia, Genoa, Bologna, Milan, and more.
Depending on which train you took, once in Pisa, you will stop in the minor stations if you are on a regional train or directly in Pisa Centrale if you are on board of a Freccia. Whatever the train, I suggest you get off in Pisa Centrale as you will find several buses to reach the historic landmarks or you can take an easy walk.
If you prefer to travel independently and manage your own time, you can rent a car and drive to Pisa. In this case, keep in mind that Pisa has a large ZTL so be careful where you go and where you park. Check out here the Pisa ZTL map.
How to get around
Once in Pisa Centrale, you can walk or use the local public transport managed by CPT, which is efficient and frequent. If you are in Pisa for a day only, probably you will only visit the landmarks in Campo dei Miracoli and around it, so navigating on foot will be enough.
If, on the other hand, you are staying a bit longer or you want to visit also lesser-known attractions, using the local buses is your best option.
Where to eat
Some of the restaurants in the city center not far from Piazza Duomo are La Ghiotteria trattoria (Vicolo delle Donzelle 9-11), Da Mario (Via Luigi Bianchi 19) for good Pisa and Tuscan cuisine.
If you feel like having pizza, a good place in Pisa is Gusto al 129 (Via Santa Bibbiana 10), while for fish specialties, try Hostaria Le Repubbliche Marinare (vicolo Del Ricciardi 8).
Where to stay
If you are staying in Pisa for a few days, chances are you would like your accommodation to be in the city center or easy to reach from the historic landmarks.
Some good options are B&B 7 Rooms for about 100/124 euros per night for a double room, depending on the season, Cantuccio di Borgo if you prefer to keep your independence by renting a flat, or the opulent accommodation at the Palazzo Cini Luxury Rooms in Pisa.
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Rome-based travel writer, blogger and photographer.