“No doubt you have heard of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. That is where I spent quite a bit of time when I was stationed overseas.” – a letter from my Grampa when we were discussing the adventures I shuld have when studying abroad.
Underrated alert: Pisa is one of the more beautiful cities in Tuscany. It gets overlooked as too touristy because of its famous tower.
We have never spent a night in Pisa, but because of its location to public transportation, including planes and trains, we’ve been able to visit Pisa on multiple trips. You might be wondering what to do in Pisa (beyond the obvious), and I’m happy to share ways to enjoy this beautiful city along the Arno river.
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What to Do in Pisa & How to Make the Most of Your Time in Pisa
Reservations in Pisa
Know Before You Go: Depending on what main sites on the Field of Miracles that you want to see, you will want to make reservations in advance. The Cathedral and the Tower have only timed entry tickets. The hardest day of reservation to get is for the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Most of the time, you can get timed-entry tickets for the Pisa duomo, Santa Maria Assunta, on the same day of your visit, though they might be a couple a hours later. Go ahead and purchase what you can get. There are more things to see in Pisa while you wait, including the Baptistery. This is true regardless of the time of year that you visit.
Pro Tip: Purchase your train tickets after you are done sightseeing. There are so many trains that run between Pisa and Florence that you won’t get stuck.
Given the beauty of the Duomo complex, there are number of striking dichotomies that exist between the exterior and the interior of the attractions. While I know it can be tempting to just take your touristy photo holding up the tower, I promise you there is more to see.
While I no longer have the photo from when I visit in 2004, one of the things that struck me most was the ethereal light that streamed through the duomo on a Saturday morning. It’s worth going beyond the Romanesque architecture to see the beauty of the complex.
Be prepare to take whatever ticket you can get if you don’t plan ahead.
Beyond the Leaning Tower of Pisa
On the backside of the piazza (near where the ticket office and public restroom), you might miss the Camposanto Monumentale and its beautiful frescos. If you love frescos, you might also be interested in the Sinopie museum, which houses some of the restored frescos that were saved from the Camposanto walls.
If you can’t get tickets to the main Pisa attractions but love art, see if you can visit these underrated things to do in Pisa.
This edifice was overlooked by us at least three times on trips to Pisa. Learn from our mistakes.
Like any good Duomo, Pisa also offers a Opera del Duomo Museum which houses cathedral artifacts, sculptures and paintings, and archeological and liturgical pieces.
Explore the Other Churches in Pisa
Like Florence, there is more than one church to see in Pisa. Duck into every church you can find on the walk from Pisa Centrale to the Field of Miracles. One of my favorite finds was Santa Maria della Spina, which we only saw because I was determined to walk along the banks of the river Arno.
Every time we make the walk from Pisa Centrale to the Piazza del Miracoli, we take different streets. By doing this, you’ll find beautiful outdoor cafes and restaurants, unexpected murals and etchings, and beautiful squares. For example, the Palazzo dei Cavalieri, the former seat of the Roman Empire, is often overlooked by tourists in favor of the city’s more famous attractions.
Also overlooked is the Keith Haring mural, which is painted on the outside of a church within a few steps of Pisa Centrale. You’ll cross the open square and find it almost immediately. For me, it’s a reminder that Pisa is more than the Leaning Tower – it offers a contemporary feel with the beauty of the Renaissance alongside it.
If you just take buses and taxis between the airport or train station and the Field of Miracles, you’ll miss all these moments. Pisa really is a fascinating and beautiful city to roam without an agenda.
Museums in Pisa
If you’re wondering what to do in Pisa if you can’t get Duomo complex tickets, you shouldn’t overlook the museum scene. While not as popular as their Florence counterparts, you’ll enjoy getting to learn more about the Medici family and medieval art without an audience.
In addition to the religious art found throughout Pisa and the Duomo complex, there are also museums that might pique your interest if you want to learn more about Pisa’s powerful past or art in Pisa.
If you are interested in learning more about the Medici family, there is the National Museum of the Royal Palace, which sits along the banks of the Arno River and houses a Medici collection of art and ancient armor.
If you are interested in art without the crowds, the National Museum of San Matteo also sits along the banks of the Arno river. It houses a collection that covers time from the medieval ages to the 16th century. Housed in a former convent, you’ll find art from some of Italy’s most famous artists from Donatello to Pisano.
How to Visit Pisa
While there is no shortage of tours or day trips from Florence to Pisa, I recommend skipping an expensive tour and building Pisa into your transportation itinerary.
Know Before You Go: Baggage deposit at Pisa Centrale is 4 euro per bag. Be judicious with your luggage and combine if you can.
Pisa has a great airport with a number of daily flights from all over the continent. So whether it’s your landing point to explore Tuscany or your departure point, you should be able to easily include Pisa in your trip. Here are the multiple ways that we have included spending time in the city of Pisa.
Using Pisa as a Layover When Traveling via Train
After visiting Cinque Terre, we were headed to Florence. After changing trains at La Spezia, our next change would be in Pisa. We stored our luggage at the train station and made the 15 minute walk to the Piazza dei Miracoli. We spent a few hours enjoying the piazza before continuing on to our final destination.
The train ride from Pisa to Florence only takes an hour or so. It’s a great to break up longer journeys, particularly ones where you will have to change trains anyway. One way tickets are $7-15 depending on the time of day. I like to use Rome2Rio to plan these impromptu visits.
Visit Pisa before Flying Home
At the end of a week in Florence, we were scheduled to fly from Pisa to London and on to the United States the following day. I deliberately scheduled the last flight from PSA-LHR so that we could have a leisurely day in Pisa. Again, we took a cheap train from Florence to Pisa, stored our luggage at the airport, and headed off in search of a late lunch and did some Pisa sightseeing. The reverse would also work if you had an early morning flight. You could store your luggage before heading on to your final destination.
Day Trip to Pisa
Pisa (coupled with a beach trip to Viareggio) was my first day trip when I studied abroad in Florence. If you’re staying in Florence, I don’t recommend using one of your days to take a day trip to Pisa. (Florence hotels are too expensive. Enjoy Florence while you are there.) However, if you are road tripping through Tuscany, you could easily make a day trip to Pisa.
Note: Many popular tours offer trips to Pisa and San Gimignano. I don’t recommend coupling these together because of the distance between the two cities. In our case, we combined Pisa and Lucca as part of our journey from Umbria to Barga.
Because of Pisa’s popularity, you’ll want to plan appropriately to make the most of your time in Pisa. How do I know this? Because a lack of proper planning has left us disappointed in Pisa more than once. Just because you can make an easy trip to Pisa doesn’t mean you’ll get to experience in Pisa.