Best known for its leaning tower but there's much more to discover in this pretty and vibrant college town
Pisa is a maritime city on the Arno river, famous worldwide for its iconic leaning tower. Dating back to the Etruscan times and reaching a peak during the Maritime republic, it is a treasure chest of artistic gems, Romanesque and Gothic churches. Its quaint streets and hidden squares offer a unique atmosphere, thanks to its university-city status. Although it would seem the sole purpose of most visitors is to grab of photo pretending to prop up the leaning tower, this really is a fascinating city, which deserves time to be fully explored.
What to do
Of course, the first stop for most visitors is Pisa's famous leaning tower. Standing 60 metres tall and leaning at about a 10 degree angle, this bell tower, although designed to be perfectly vertical, came into trouble during construction. Book tickets in advance for an opportunity to climb to the top. If you can, it is worth waiting until later in the day to visit; the crowds have gone and during the late opening periods of the summer months, and night adds a special enchantment to the white stone monuments.
Also situated in the Piazza dei Mircoli, a UNESCO world heritage site, you will find the city's Duomo, the Cathederal of Santa Maria Assunta. A Romanesque masterpiece built in the 11th century and a must when visiting Pisa, as magnificent from the inside as it is out. The Baptistry, again located in the Piazza dei Miracoli, is an immense structure standing 54m high. Inside you will find an opulently decorated interior full of statues, arches and decoration.
Located on the banks of the river Arno is the National Museum of Pisa. A gem of a museum packed with artefacts and sculptures, 12th and 13th century paintings and ancient manuscripts. If you are looking to learn a little more about the history of this fascinating city, here is a great place to start.
On the banks of the river opposite the museum is the Santa Maria della Spina, a small but enchanting church, considered one of the most beautiful in Pisa, due to its ornate design and riverside location. Take time to wander the medieval heart of Pisa, found north of the river. A bustling maze of lanes and alleys; from the bars and ice-cream parlours of Piazza Cairoli to the daily market that overflows from the Piazza delle Vettovagile.
In the heart of the historic town you will find the University of Pisa's Botanical gardens. These beautiful gardens, maintained by the university are a wonderful place to visit offering a beautiful array of plants, trees, flowers and fauna; also ponds, greenhouses and an arboretum. A great place to escape the bustle of the city.
What to eat
Discovering the delights and delicacies Pisa has to offer means wandering squares packed with locals, propping up little tables in the bars of the piazza delle Vettovaglie or piazza della Pera. Heading to the lively university cafes of Piazza Dante Aligheri or going south of the river to the trendy San Martino quarter.
For pizza that's a favourite with locals, head to Pizzeria Il Montino. Although not fancy they offer truly delicious pizzas that can be grabbed and enjoyed at one of the tables inside and out. For delicious, plentiful pasta at reasonable prices, head to the charming Ir Tegame. Situated on one of Pisa's liveliest squares, Piazza Cairoli , they offer fresh homemade pasta as well as homemade deserts in a buzzing setting. For a fantastic bistro, away from the crowds, head to Osteria Bernado. This small bistro on a pretty square offers a selection of delicious fusion cuisine on its small, carefully put together menu. Due to its popularity, reservations are recommended.
For some of the best seafood in Pisa try Osteria del Porton Roso. Tucked away and so cosy and homely you wont want to leave, this restaurant offers a fine selection of food in generous portions alongside an excellent wine list. For fantastic ice-cream in a fantastic location, head to Geletaria de'Coltelli. Situated on the banks of the river Arno, this ice cream parlour is known throughout Pisa for its delicious organic gelato in an exciting range of flavours.
How to get there
Being conveniently served by its own international airport airport, Pisa is a main arrival point into the Tuscan region. BA, Easyjet and Ryanair, amongst others all serve this busy airport.
There are fast and efficient direct trains into Pisa from the airport and journeys take approximately 20 mins. Buses into town are conveniently located right outside the passenger terminal. Being located only 1km from the city, taxis into town are a cheap and convenient option and can again be found right outside arrivals.
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