There’s a strong likelihood that the only reason you’re visiting Pisa is because you landed here rather than Florence (it’s the cheaper of the two airports) and decided that you should probably visit the Leaning Tower whilst you’re in the vicinity. It’s a fair point, and not one I’d argue. It’s also probably worth noting that you won’t really need much more than 24 hours in Pisa if your plan is simply to see the main sights. After all, even if you find yourself in the region because you’re a foodie, then you’re still more likely to head to Florence sooner rather than later due to the greater abundance of restaurants. All of that said, Pisa really does have more to offer (ok, maybe not too much more). I’ll spend a little bit of time helping you to get to know Pisa and some top tips to make the most of a flying visit before you undoubtedly head on to the Renaissance domes of Florence.
If you’re heading to Pisa then there is a strong chance you’ve landed at Galileo Galilei Airport (otherwise known as Pisa International Airport). It’s one of the easiest airport transfers into central Pisa you could hope for. The train is the first option. Hopefully by the time you read this, the new PisaMover train service will link Pisa International Airport with Pisa Central Train Station (they’ve delayed the opening a host of times, so I’m not holding my breath). However, assuming that it’s open, then the first step is to jump aboard the new, slick train for a 10 minute ride in to Pisa Central Train Station (remember to validate your ticket in the machines on the platform before you board). Arriving at Pisa Central Station brings you relatively central to the town. However, if you are staying up by the Tower, then you’ll have a 15-20 minute walk across to the opposite banks of the Arno River.
If you’re scheduled to fly in on a late flight, then there is a strong possibility that you’ll be too late for the train and might want to consider a taxi. Of course, if you have luggage then this might be your preference regardless (unless you fancy trying to haul your baggage around an ancient cobblestone city). The good news is that Pisa is only 3km from the airport and so the taxi trip isn’t going to the break the bank. In honesty, if there are a few of you traveling together, then I would make the taxi your go-to choice over the train as the price differential is minimal and it takes the fuss out of the journey. The taxi rank is directly outside of Airport Arrivals as you come out of the customs hall. A ride in to the city center shouldn’t cost much more than 10 Euros.
The Leaning Tower of Pisa: as a tourist, it’s why you’re here, and it’s definitely worth visiting. It may sound cliché, but when you see the tower, it is staggering to find it’s still standing and that people are actually allowed to climb it. As you can probably imagine, the tourist industry in Pisa is pretty much solely reliant on the Tower, so you can expect a few touristy shops and merchants peddling the usual tacky souvenirs. That said, having now visited twice, I can honestly say that the volume of tourists at the tower is nowhere near as bad as it could be. In comparison to other major Italian tourist attractions, it’s positively serene, especially in the low-season. The city seems to have recently gone to the effort of making the grass around the Piazza off-bounds which has improved the whole area. If you’re planning to climb the tower then be aware that only 40 people are allowed up at any one time so queues can develop. You’ll also want to be ready for the 300-odd step climb! I’ve included a link to the tower’s ticket site in the additional resources section in case you are a uniquely organised person and wish to purchase tickets in advance.
Piazza Del Duomo: the Piazza does have a few other sights which could easily take a half day to explore fully. The most impressive is the Duomo (cathedral), which is free to enter. At this point it’s probably worth saying that if you are indeed moving on to visit Florence after Pisa then you might want to keep some ‘Duomo-excitement’ in reserve as Florence’s Duomo is by far more impressive. Other sights in the Piazza are the Baptistry (which is the round-domed building at the opposite end of the Piazza to the Tower and is where Galileo Galilei was baptised); the Campo Santo (which is a monumental cemetery and arguably the most photogenic landmark in Piazza Del Duomo); the Museo del’Opera del Duomo and the Sinopie Museum. Tickets for all of the above are available on the same website as those for the Tower and can be purchased in combinations depending on which you wish to visit.
The Walking Street: this street is actually called Corso Italia, but our hotel receptionist reliably informed us that it’s called the Walking Street for us tourists (we’re simple folk). It runs all the way from Pisa Central Station up towards the Arno River and ultimately leads on to the Piazza Del Duomo and the Leaning Tower. It’s little more than a High Street shopping area, but it is the commercial backbone of Pisa and the main tourist highway to the landmarks and back to the train station. You’ll also find small local markets off of the main thoroughfare which are worth exploring if you want to see a little more of local life beyond the Tower.
Piazza Dei Cavalieri: Knight’s Square (also known as “Piazza Delle Sette Vie” or “The Square of the Seven Streets”) is home to Palazzo Della Carovana. In fact, the square is surrounded by several Palazzos because nearly every building in Italy is called a palazzo. Despite that confusion, the square is definitely worth visiting for the architecture alone.
Santa Maria Della Spina and the River Arno: The Santa Maria Della Spina is a tiny little church on the banks of the Arno River (south bank). I’ve added it to the list simply because of the photogenic view of the church by the river when the lighting is right. In fact, if you’re looking for a good picture of the Arno, then my advice is to head towards the Ponte Solferino Bridge and shoot upriver towards the Santa Maria Della Spina from the opposite bank.
Leaning Tower and Piazza Del Duomo Tickets: http://www.opapisa.it/en/tickets/buy/