Pisa Guide: Planning Your Trip

What to Know When Visiting Pisa, Italy

Duomo and the leaning tower of Pisa
Allan Baxter/Photodisc/Getty Images

There’s more to Pisa than its legendary leaning tower, though it’s true a trip to the square by the cathedral and tower can easily occupy several hours. Whether you’re passing through as part of a larger trip around Italy or are focusing on visiting some smaller Tuscan towns nearby, Pisa is worthy of a visit in its own right. Located about an hour west of Florence, the city was one of four great maritime republics during the Middle Ages and as a result, has retained a good selection of monuments and buildings from that era. It's a good city for strolling and enjoying at a leisurely pace, with the Arno River, a university, and several interesting museums.

Planning Your Trip 

  • Best Time to Visit: Spring and fall are the most pleasant times to visit Pisa, mostly because it’s less crowded during the “shoulder seasons” and the weather isn’t as dramatically hot or cold.
  • Language: While Italian is the national language and most people in Pisa speak it, many are also familiar with English, especially in touristy areas near the leaning tower. That said, learning a few Italian phrases can go a long way with locals and help you have a more meaningful experience as you travel around the city.
  • Currency: The euro is the official currency of Italy. Visa and MasterCard are widely accepted, though it’s sometimes easier to carry cash if you’re heading to the markets or will be dining at smaller eateries. Note that throughout Italy, American Express and Diners Club cards are not as widely accepted.
  • Getting Around: Pisa is a very walkable city, though you can get around by local bus or by using the hop-on-hop-off tourist bus, which operates April through October.
  • Travel Tip: If you're visiting Pisa during the high season, consider spending the night so you can take in the sights in the morning or evening instead of in the afternoon when most visitors make the rounds for a few hours on day trips.

Things To Do

Everyone’s going to ask if you went to see the leaning tower of Pisa, so you might as well do it right. After you've taken your fair share of tacky tourist photos (will you try to hold it up or knock it down?) allow enough time to check out the rest of the Piazza del Duomo or Campo dei Miracoli (“Field of Miracles”), as it's often called. Climb to the top of the 183-foot (56 meter) leaning tower, explore the Duomo (Cathedral) and its Campo Santo (cemetery), which both date back to 1063, and have a look at the Battistero (Baptistery), which was built in the late 1300s.

Keep in mind that it’s a 20-minute walk from Pisa Centrale train station to where the leaning tower is, so you might want to pick up some snacks from a local vendor or create your own Italian-style picnic to have while you get a better look at these magnificent structures. Better yet, pick up some gelato along the way to or from the area to enjoy as you walk. Our complete guide to visiting the Leaning Tower has more helpful tips.

  • History buffs should visit Museo Nazionale (the National Museum of Pisa) to view artifacts and learn more about the city's interesting past. Admire the 13th-century gothic architecture of Santa Maria Della Spina (the Church of Santa Maria) just across the Arno River, and stroll through Piazza dei Cavalieri past historic buildings from the 1500s that were once the mark of Medici power. If you're into architecture, don't miss Borgo Stretto, a beautiful street that's home to high-end shops; it starts at Piazza Garibaldi near Ponte de Mezzo, which is also worth checking out.
  • Enjoy views from Torre Guelfa (Guelph Tower), which was originally built as part of a shipyard, served as a fortress, was bombed during WWII, and was eventually restored in 1956. You also shouldn't miss Orto Botanical di Pisa (Botanical Garden of Pisa), a stunning green space built by the Medici family in 1544 that's now part of the University of Pisa.
  • Consider a day trip to Italy’s scenic Cinque Terre region (named for the five hillside towns of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Vernazza, Corniglia, and Monterosso Al Mare), about 90 minutes away by car or train; Florence, just an hour’s drive to the east; or venture out and explore Lucca or the farms and wineries of Tuscany with a rental car.
  • Experience the annual Regatta of the Ancient Maritime Republics, a boat race between Pisa, Venice, Genoa, and Amalfi, every four years (time of year varies). Or plan your trip around the Gioco del Ponte or "bridge game," a re-enactment of a medieval contest between Pisans living north of the Arno River and those living south of the river that takes place each year on the last Sunday of June.

Explore more attractions with our full-length article about Pisa tourist attractions, with more details about the town's top sights and tips for what to see and do during your stay.

Where to Eat and Drink 

Like much Italian food, Pisan cuisine focuses mostly on fresh, simple ingredients, though its cooking styles differ from those you’ll find in other parts of Tuscany. Oil and wine play an important role in most recipes, and dishes made with fish, game (wild boar, rabbit, or pheasant), or regional favorites like pesto with pine nuts are very popular. For dessert, try torta co’ bischeri (pilgrim cake), a tasty tart made with white rice, regionally sourced pine nuts, dark chocolate, raisins, spices, and candied fruit. Located in a 15th-century palazzo, Caffe dell'Ussuro (Lungamo Pacinotti 27) is a historic Pisan café that first opened in 1794; you'll find more traditional food at Al Ristoro dei Vecchi Macelli (Via Volturno 49) and Antica Trattoria da Bruno (Via Bianchi 12).

While Pisa isn’t necessarily known for its wine, Tuscany, the region in which Pisa resides, is full of wineries, many of which you can tour if you’ve got the time. Nearby, Florence boasts the Negroni, a simple cocktail made with red vermouth, gin, and Campari bitters.

Explore our articles on the best foods to try in Italy, the best dining, and where to learn how to cook.

Where to Stay 

Like any major European city, you’ll find your share of branded hotels as well as a number of bed and breakfasts and budget-friendly hostels. Pisa is also home to several top-rated independent hotels. There’s a type of accommodation for everyone, whether you prefer to stay closer to the airport, along the Arno River, near the beaches outside Pisa, or elsewhere in Tuscany. But if you really want to experience Pisa like a local, consider staying in an Airbnb or VRBO vacation rental in the historic center.

Getting There 

Because of Pisa’s centralized location in Italy, it’s easy to get there by bus, train, plane, or car from other major hubs like Florence (1.5 hours by train or an hour and 10 minutes by car), Rome (2.5 hours by train or four hours by car) and Milan (three hours by train or car), among other cities throughout Europe.

  • Pisa International Airport (also called Galileo Galilei Airport) offers flights to and from several Italian cities as well as other parts of Europe and the U.K. If you’re coming from the U.S., you’ll need to fly into a major airport in Rome or Milan, then take a train, bus, or car the rest of the way to Pisa.
  • Rent a car at the airport through Avis, Europcar, among other brands, then take the A11 or A12 Autostrada to reach the city center. Pisa is also easily reachable by train or bus from Florence, Rome, and other coastal cities throughout Tuscany, while local buses serve nearby towns.
  • If you’re able to connect through another city and land at Pisa International Airport, you can either walk 20 minutes, take a local bus, or hop on the spiffy PisaMover shuttle rail to Pisa Centrale train station, connecting you with Pisa’s city center and other points throughout Italy.

For more ways to get around Italy by flying, see our guide to Italian airports.

Money Saving Tips 

  • While most Pisa attractions are pretty inexpensive at just a few euros each, you can save even more by sticking to what’s free, like admiring the outside of the famous leaning tower and its buildings from the square instead of paying extra to climb up it.
  • Take a scenic stroll along the Arno River, or follow along with this free walking tour guide to see some of the best parts of Pisa.
  • Instead of spending money at pricey restaurants around town, gather some fresh sandwich-making materials, fruit, vegetables, and local ingredients from a weekend market (Mercato delle Vettovaglie, which means “supply square” in Italian, is a popular choice, open most mornings and afternoons except Sunday) and throw yourself an Italian-style picnic.