What to Do in Pisa
Most of the people who visit Pisa do so for a couple of hours, usually on their way to or from Florence or Siena, only to get a picture of themselves “propping up” the leaning tower of Pisa and maybe climb to the top of the famous tower. But believe it or not, there’s a city beyond the tower, and other sights and attractions in Pisa as well.
Here are some of the things to do in Pisa, including that off-kilter tower but looking beyond it as well. If the sights listed below are in blue, you can click on them for more detailed information.
- The Leaning Tower of Pisa – If not for Pisa’s soft soil, this would have been just another bell tower for just another cathedral in Italy, but the famous tilt makes it a popular tourist attraction. The tower was reopened for climbing recently, and it gets busy during the summer, so be sure you buy leaning tower tickets in advance if you want to be sure to see the top.
- Campo dei Miracoli – Literally “Field of Miracles,” this is the name for the uber-green lawn which surrounds the leaning tower, the Duomo and the Baptistery. It is some of the greenest grass you’ll ever see, but it’s not to be used as a picnic grounds.
- Pisa’s Duomo – See that enormous building next to the tilting tower? That’s the cathedral, or Duomo, for which the tower was to serve only as a place for the bells. The Duomo routinely gets overlooked by people scurrying in just to see the leaning tower, but it’s gorgeous and well worth a tour inside.
- Pisa’s Baptistery – The other oft-neglected building near the leaning tower is on the opposite end of the Duomo, and it’s the baptistery. The largest in Italy, Pisa’s baptistery has incredible acoustics inside. Sometimes the staff guarding the door can be cajoled into demonstrating them, so brush up on your Italian compliments.
- Museo dell’Opera del Duomo – Although the cathedral is lovely both inside and out, most of the artwork once housed in it has been moved to a more secure and climate-controlled setting in the Duomo Museum. It’s not far from the leaning tower.
- Chiesa di Santa Maria della Spina – This Gothic church dates from the early 13th century, and it got its name in the 14th century when it acquired a reliquary allegedly containing a thorn from Jesus’ crown. The reliquary is no longer in this church (it’s now in the Church of Santa Chiara), but Santa Maria della Spina is still interesting, if for no other reason than it was entirely dismantled and rebuilt in the late 1870s to raise the whole church up by one meter.
- Old Citadel & Guelph Tower – The top of this tower gives you a view of Pisa that actually includes Pisa’s most famous tower, so for that reason alone it’s worth a stop.
- Botanic Gardens – This extensive garden is just down the street from the leaning tower, and is maintained by the University of Pisa. It has the distinction of being the first university botanic garden in all of Europe, and as an added bonus for budget travelers, it’s free!
- Palazzo Agostini & Caffè dell’Ussero – The palazzo was built in the 14th century, and is beautifully preserved. It also leans, perhaps taking after the leaning tower nearby, but more likely because the whole city is on soft ground. The palazzo also houses one of Pisa’s most famous cafes, the Caffè dell’Ussero, which opened in the late 1790s.
- Borgo Stretto – Shopaholics stopping in Pisa will want to head for this street, which is where all the chic boutiques are located. Budget travelers can still enjoy the ambience just by window shopping with a gelato in hand.
- Piazza dei Cavalieri – One of Pisa’s many lovely squares, this one is notable because it was designed by Vasari, and one of Italy’s best universities has this piazza as its address: the Scuola Normale Superiore, founded by Napoleon.
- Chiesa del Santo Sepolcro – This 12th-century church was built for the Knights of Malta, and it’s unusual for its octagonal shape.
- Keith Haring Mural – Keith Haring’s popular graffiti-style modern art is recognizable the world over, but you still might be surprised to find a big Haring mural in Pisa. Seems Haring really liked the city, and on a wall of the Church of Sant’Antonio in Pisa in 1989, he made what would become the last public painting he would do before his death in 1990.