Famed for its iconic leaning tower, Pisa in Tuscany is a city full of delights. Follow our quick itinerary for the low down on what to do in Pisa.
Whether you’ve got a day or a few hours, Pisa is worth a wander. The Piazza del Duomo (Square of Miracles) alone is home to some of Italy’s most prestigious buildings. With some of the finest architecture in the world Pisa is a one-of-a-kind city. To see some of its wonders for yourself keep reading!
You might as well start with the monument which has made Pisa so famous today. The Leaning Tower of Pisa tilts at a 4 degree angle due to it being built on unstable foundations. No matter how many pictures or how much research you’ve done before you trip, the sight of a 56 m building looking like its about to fall on its side is sure to be a shocking, humorous and breathtaking sight all at once. When you’ve had enough of ogling and posing in front of the tower from the outside, why not go inside and climb to the top to get amazing views of the city.
From the top of the Leaning Tower you should be able to spot the other surrounding buildings, including the Cattedrale di Pisa. A medieval Roman Catholic cathedral dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. It is a building rich in artistic detail, added to and developed from the 11th – 16th century. Its bronze doors and the griffin sculpture seen inside the buildings are both spoils of war, taken from Palermo in Sicily, just some of the many treasures taken from the Saracens.
Also located within the Piazzo del Duomo, the Baptistery of St John is the largest in Italy and a perfect example of the transition from Romanesque style to Gothic. With high curved ceilings the baptistery has exceptional acoustics, which make up for its rather simple and bland interior. In contrast, its exterior stands unique and dramatic in its design, with high arches, pillars, sculptures and a colourful maroon-coloured roof.
This Monumental Cemetery is located on the north side of the Piazza del Duomo (Square of Miracles) and is home to a beautiful collection of 14th and 15th century frescoes by Taddeo Gaddi, Andrea Bonaiuti and Beozzo Gozzoli. Take a stroll through the cemetery’s grounds and appreciate the stunning courtyard area and the precious examples of Medieval and Early Renaissance art adorning Camposanto’s walls.
One of the main squares of the city, Piazza dei Cavalieri (Knight’s Square) is significant for being a political centre in medieval Pisa. From the 16th century onwards it became the headquarters of the Order of the Knights of St. Stephen, a military order founded in 1561. The main building in the square is the Palazzo della Carovana, which acted as the order’s headquarters, and is now a main building for the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa (an eminent university based in Pisa). This is a great place to get a sense of the medieval aura of ancient Italy, making it easy to picture what it may have been like a thousand years ago.
Santa Maria della Spina
Constructed in the traditional gothic style of the time, this small little church sits on the side of the Arno River, picturesque in its size and pastel colour palette. Constructed in the 13th century, the church stands out in its decorative style in comparison to the bright, warm terracotta roofs that surrounds it. Although an excellent example of Pisan Gothic, the church has not lasted this long without some help. In 1871 it underwent a restoration after water from the river threatened the building’s stability, leaving it to be raised a metre above its original standing, with many sculptures replaced with copies. An interesting addition to your Pisa itinerary.
Natural Park Migliarino San Rossore
If you’re keen to escape the city and explore some green spaces, the Natural Park Migliarino San Rossore is only a 15 minute drive, or a 45 minute cycle from Pisa’s city centre. A large nature reserve consisting of woods, waterways and farms. It has several visitor centres to explore, including La Brilla Visitor Centre where you can admire the old machinery and gears farmers once used to produce rice. The perfect environment to take a hike along many of the park’s footbaths, or a cycle from the road to the sea through forest’s pine trail.
If you haven’t yet had enough of Pisa’s art collections the Sinopie Museum gives a fascinating look at how the popular frescoes of the Camposanto Cemetery were created. The museum displays the original sketches used in the designs providing an interesting behind the scenes look at the magnificent 14th century frescoes seen in the cemetery. The term ‘sinopia’ which the museum is fittingly named after, refers to a dark reddish-brown pigment that was used during the Renaissance to create the rough initial drawings of the fresco. This allowed artists to give an idea of what the fresco would look like to a sponsor, with changes easily made if necessary.
If you’re needing a break from all the art and the history, why not head to Borg Street for some retail therapy? With some of the trendiest stores of the shopping world, Borgo Street is a great place to window shop, whilst admiring the streets beautiful buildings. With arched, well-lit entrances and brightly adorned windows, Borgo Street is a welcoming invitation to an elite shopping experience. With boutique cafes, shops and bars, Borgo Street is somewhere where you can relax and soak up Pisa’s Italian ambiance.
Ponte di Mezzo Bridge
Commonly known as the Ponte Conte Ugolino by locals, the Ponte di Mezzo is a bridge over the Arno River, that connects Piazza Baribaldi in the northern part of the city, to Piazza XX Settembre on the south side of the river. The river’s still waters and pretty green banks create a tranquil scene as you stroll across the bridge, providing the perfect place to escape the tourist crowds. Head to the bridge in the early morning or late afternoon to catch the best light of the day and have some chill time, whilst remaining close to Pisa’s centre.
That’s a wrap! We hope this article has given you a few ideas on what to do in Pisa and has broadened your horizons beyond that of the Leaning Tower.
If you have limited time in Pisa and you’re looking to make the most of your visit, why don’t you check out our Two Hour Pisa Walking Tour? Or, if this article has inspired you to make a trip to this iconic city, consider doing our Half Day Pisa Tour from Florence as an easy way to squeeze it into your plans.
Related article: History of the Leaning Tower of Pisa