Famous worldwide for its Leaning Tower, Pisa may have a spot on your Italy bucket list. But even so, you might still wonder: is the city actually worth the trip or is it a tad overrated? Stick around to find out!
- Is Pisa worth visiting? (quick answer)
- What is Pisa known for?
- Reasons why you should visit Pisa, Italy
- Reasons why you might opt out of visiting Pisa, Italy
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Is Pisa worth visiting? (quick answer)
In my opinion, Pisa is worth visiting for its impressive cathedral complex (includes the Leaning Tower), which can easily be seen as a day trip from Florence. Having said that, if you are looking for a city that will keep you busy for a few days, then you’re probably better off sticking to Rome, Venice, or Florence itself.
What is Pisa known for?
Pisa is most famous for its iconic Leaning Tower, which is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Italy and even the world.
As I already mentioned, the tower is part of the cathedral complex located in Piazza dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles), a UNESCO World Heritage site that also includes the Duomo of Santa Maria Assunta, the Baptistery of St. John, and the Camposanto Monumentale.
Reasons why you should visit Pisa, Italy
The Leaning Tower
The Leaning Tower is the free-standing bell tower of the Duomo of Santa Maria Assunta (Pisa Cathedral) and it received the nickname due to its unstable foundation, which caused it to visibly lean even before it was completed. The tower is eight stories high and it’s made from white marble.
After the 3rd floor was finished, people started to observe there was a slight lean to it. In an attempt to correct it, the new floors were made slightly taller on the short side.
However, the extra stonework only caused the tower to sink even more on the soft ground. Over the years, extensive work was done to it in order to try and stop or even reduce its learning.
It’s interesting to see how despite the fact that at the time of its construction, it was considered a total failure, eventually it was its flaw that made it so famous and now tourists from all over the world enjoy taking photos ‘supporting’ or ‘tipping’ the tower.
Tickets for entering the tower can be bought on-site or online (fast track) and the visit takes around 30 minutes. If you want to climb on top of it, I suggest you buy your ticket beforehand as only a fixed number of people is allowed inside the tower each day.
The cathedral complex in Piazza dei Miracoli
Even though the Leaning Tower is the star of the show, the rest of the structures in Piazza dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles) are interesting to see as well. I also found the contrast between the white(ish) of the buildings and the green of the grass surrounding them visually appealing.
A great example of Romanesque architecture, Pisa Cathedral (Duomo of Santa Maria Assunta) is the oldest and largest edifice in the square. It is free to visit, but you still need a ticket: you can pick a free timeslot ticket from the ticket booth or you get a flexible entry if you have a paid ticket to any other building belonging to the cathedral complex.
Combining the Romanesque and Gothic styles, the Baptistery of St. John is the largest in Italy and has excellent acoustics.
Since it was constructed on the same unstable terrain, the structure also has a slight lean to it, even though it’s not as noticeable as in the case of the tower. You can buy tickets* for the Baptistery either on-site or online (fast track).
The last structure to be added to the cathedral complex, Camposanto Monumentale (en. Monumental cemetery), is said to have been built upon holy soil brought back from Golgotha, hence the name ( Camposanto means “Holy Field”). Like for the others, you can buy tickets for the cemetery either on-location or online (fast track).
Piazza dei Cavalieri
Located in the heart of Pisa’s old town, Piazza dei Cavalieri (en. Knights’ Square) was the political and administrative center of the city in medieval times. Now, it’s the home of the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa, an institution of higher education founded by Napoleon himself.
The square features beautifully decorated buildings and historic monuments which makes it quite photogenic.
Santa Maria della Spina
Santa Maria della Spina is a tiny gothic church on the bank of the Arno river (it’s only slightly wider than the sidewalk). The name “Spina” means “thorn” and it refers to a Thorn from Christ’s Crown on the Cross, which was acquired and kept by the church for a while.
Arno is the exact same river that flows through the middle of Florence as well. A walk along its banks will allow you to admire many colorful historic buildings and palazzo.
Reasons why you might opt out of visiting Pisa, Italy
There’s not much to do
You have probably already drawn this conclusion yourself, but apart from Piazza dei Miracoli, there aren’t a lot of things to do and see in the city. For this reason, one day or even half a day is more than enough, in my opinion, to see the main sights in Pisa.
Honestly, for me, Pisa was worth visiting even if it was mainly for the Leaning Tower (in fact I went there twice, though the second time the wow factor dimmed down a bit).
When I was in 2nd grade or so, we got from school an atlas with stickers representing landmarks and other things from all over the world. And one of them was with the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
And I vividly remember that I was wondering whether I will ever get to see it in real life as I was sticking it into place. So years later, when I got to Piazza dei Miracoli I had an instant feeling of “wow I’m actually here!” and was really grateful and appreciative for it.
But this is a highly personal experience and even though I think seeing iconic landmarks like this (despite all the popularity and the crowds) is worth it, even if you get this feeling just once in a while, I also get why some people might have found the trip kinda underwhelming.
The area around the Leaning Tower can get pretty crowded
It goes without saying but given its fame, the area around the Leaning Tower gets pretty crowded most of the time. Honestly, it’s hard to even take a picture without having dozens of people in the frame. Not to mention the poses look kinda wild from afar :)).
So either you get creative with your angles, or simply embrace all the weirdness around you and do your part at ‘supporting’ the tower as well.
I hope this blog post helped you make a decision on whether you will visit Pisa or not during your next trip to Italy. But either way, I recommend you to check out my other articles about this amazing country as well, for more travel tips and inspiration.