Pisa is located in Tuscany, a region in central Italy. The Arno river runs through the city and empties at Marina di Pisa (beach of Pisa). Famous for its Leaning Tower but let me tell you, it has much more to offer. I share some of my favorite things to do in Pisa below.
I was ambivalent about this trip. The only thing I knew was that tourists flocked there and that is usually my signal to keep my distance. I’m truly so happy that I went and now I cannot stop raving about it. On with the article…
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1. Watch everyone take funny pictures at the Leaning Tower of Pisa
Piazza dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles) is where you will find the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Pisa Cathedral and Baptistery, and part of the old walls. This is where you will also find massive crowds. There are hoards of tourists taking funny pictures which is probably the most entertaining thing to do. The architecture is beyond impressive. Get close to the buildings to admire the details!
Caution! Some online ticket sales for the Leaning Tower of Pisa can charge almost 30€.
2 Visit a church that once housed part of the crown of thorns.
Santa Maria della Spina a small church next to the Arno River. Its name refers to a thorn from the crown of thorns that was once housed here (now in another church in Pisa). It is a beautiful building done in a Pisan gothic style and iconic in many photos of the city.
3 Admire the intricate art on buildings.
Visit Italy you will quickly realize visiting the squares are where you will find all of the most beautiful buildings. In Pisa, that square is Palazzo della Carovana (Knight’s Square) and the building is Scuola Normale Superiore, a university. La Normale is covered in paintings of zodiac signs and mythology. On the bottom right photo, you can see how details were carved into the building.
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4 Find the other leaning towers of Pisa.
The Leaning Tower is not the only tower in Pisa! In fact, there are two other lesser-known leaning towers. The first is not far from the Square of Miracles, walk ten minutes south on via Santa Maria and it will be on your left at San Nicola. The second tower is the bell tower of San Michele degli Scalzi in the eastern end of Pisa.
5 Find the best gelato in Pisa.
There are more gelato places than you can try. Believe me. We attempted to eat as many as we could and failed miserably (haha). I do highly recommend Il Gelato di Toto their pistachio is light but very full of flavors with bits of pistachio throughout. Yum!
6 Check out Keith Haring’s mural.
In Sant’Antonio square there is a Keith Haring mural painted on a wall of a church. Keith Haring was a famous pop artist in NYC in the 1980s. I recall seeing his work often growing up and it was a really cool experience to see one in person. Across from the mural is a cafe called Keith Art Shop Cafe. It’s a nice little place to get a coffee and a small bite to eat. With outside seating, you can enjoy people or mural watching and dodging pigeons.
7 Window shop down Corso Italia.
Start at Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II and walk north up Corso Italia. Once you reach the bridge, cross it and you can continue down Borgo Stretto to continue the fun of window shopping and browsing cute alleyways.
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8 Go to the beach at Marina di Pisa.
Just 15-20 minutes away is all you need to escape the heat and crowds by taking a bus to Marina di Pisa for the day and enjoy the beautiful beaches and quiet seaside town. There you can find rock and sandy beaches, payable facilities, cafes, and restaurants.
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9 Enjoy the nightlife at Piazza Garibaldi.
One of my favorite experiences in Pisa was walking around to experience the nightlife. Walk to Piazza Garibaldi next to the river and you will see lots of people gathering for a drink. There are also a lot of beautiful restaurants and bars in this area that are open late. We ate at Mani’omio (Piazza S. Omobono 11). I highly recommend it. The local cheese plate was superb, the house wine was delicious, and my risotto was perfection.
10 Drink coffee at Filter Coffee Lab
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Not a traditional Italian coffee place but the coffee here is incredible. Their food offerings looked amazing but unfortunately, I arrived after they stopped serving. It’s a great place to relax and it helps that the cafe is very Instagramable.
Where to next?
From Pisa there are many beautiful small towns and famous cities. I suggest checking out Lucca or Volterra for some seriously old towns, both were settled during the Etruscan time (pre-Roman).
For castle lovers there are two castles on my bucket list in this area. If you are heading towards Bologna there is Rocchetta Mattei a 19th century fortress that looks incredible. If you are going towards Florence, just southeast of the city is Castello di Sammezzano a Moorish castle with 450 acres of gardens.
I suggest visiting Bologna as it is one of my favorite Italian cities and a great place to take it slow and enjoy a plate or two of tagliatelle al ragù.
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