Every city has its must-see sights. Sometimes they are built up to be the most amazing thing you’ll ever see and sometimes they’re completely underrated. Venice is incredible, but St Mark’s Square is ridiculously crowded. You know what’s not as impressive? The Space Needle in Seattle. Also, the Leaning Tower of Pisa but it is unique and when it comes to what to do in Pisa, it’s a must. We’ve got an easy Pisa day trip plan that will get you off the train, seeing the sights, and moving onto your next destination with ease.
What you’ll find here: getting to Pisa from Cinque Terre or Florence, what makes Pisa unusual, what to do in Pisa and quick tips for an easy visit to Pisa.
What you'll find...
Arrival in Pisa via train
We actually recommend visiting as an easy Pisa day trip or a stop on a larger train journey. We made the stop over between Florence and La Spezia after hiking through Cinque Terre. While there is more to Pisa than the famous sights within the city wall, you can feel good planning what to do in Pisa just by checking those sights out, as exploring Pisa on foot will show you the best of the city.
The primary train station in Pisa, Pisa Centrale, isn’t close to anything. Anything. So, to start your visit on the right foot, CHECK YOUR LUGGAGE at Pisa Centrale where it is secure and then use the distance from the train station to your ultimate destination to grab a bite and an espresso. If you’re arriving on an early train, FYI, Pisa isn’t an early morning city. It’s kind of funny actually. You walk around and think to yourself “Um, did the apocalypse happen? Are we the sole survivors?” Eventually you’ll find coffee, so don’t be too discouraged. If you’re doing a full tour of Tuscany, you’ll see that “morning people” are few and far between.
Tip: don’t take a taxi when you get off the train. It’ll be tempting, but do the walk. This is when you’ll get the best impression of the town and its beautiful antiquated charm.
And if you actually want to stay in Pisa for more than a day once you see that what to do in Pisa should be spread out over more than just a day trip…
Closest train station to the Tower of Pisa
There is another train station you may arrive via is Pisa San Rossore, but that’s primarily serviced by Tren Italia and most faster trains don’t stop there. You can get directly to Pisa San Rossore from Florence, but if you’re taking the train from Cinque Terre, you’ll need to change trains a few times. We came into town from La Spezia into the Pisa Centrale so that’s our frame of reference. For more info on getting around the country, check out this comprehensive article on Italy travel.
What to do in Pisa
You’ll find that the main attractions of Pisa, meaning the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa and its surroundings, really are the big ticket items, but you can enjoy the city in other ways too. When you consider what to do in Pisa, remember that every city is more than its icon. Verona is another wonderful town similar to Pisa. Check out one day in Verona for a great day addition to your Italy trip.
Exploring Pisa on foot
Like we said, the train station is nowhere near the famous sights of Pisa. So, you start out and you walk for a while and then you cross the beautiful Arno river (which you’ll also cross in Florence). You’ll walk past narrow streets and tiny churches and you’ll hear bells everywhere. It’s really amazing and just what you want to experience in Italy. Because Pisa is a small city and built along the river, it is very easy to go off-the-beaten-path and explore the side streets. Google Maps link for walking through Pisa here!
As you walk though, it’s surprising to see how much less touristy the city is than what you’d expect. Pisa is what a functional, non-tourist town looks and feels like. You actually get to see Italy without tour buses. What to do in Pisa? Enjoy the quiet areas that are just as beautiful as the touristy ones!
Tip: arrive later in the morning to be able to shop, as Pisa is actually an Italian shopping paradise yet to be discovered by tourists. True, you’re thinking that Florence is where the shopping happens, and that’s true too, but Pisa will surprise and impress you.
Iconic Pisa: the Field of Miracles
After enjoying your exploratory stroll through Pisa, you’ll find your way to the Field of Miracles. This is the name given to the area where you can see the primary icons of Pisa: the cathedral, the baptistry, and the bell tower. You’ll see the ancient city wall, the centuries old homes and businesses around the Field of Miracles, and the famous landmarks. You’ll also see hundreds if not thousands of tourists.
Fun game: count how many people you see trying to take the stereotypical photo of holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Guilty, we’ve done it.
Once you’re there the baptistery and cathedral, Santa Maria Assunta, are actually the best sights at the Field of Miracles. The Leaning Tower of Pisa is the third part of the architectual trio: the bell tower. The three structures are arranged in a line and are impressive from all angles. There is a cost to tour, of course, but all can be enjoyed from the outside too. There are sculptures strategically placed throughout the Field of Miracles and places to rest and take in the view.
Touring religious buildings in Italy
You may not think twice about it, but most of the famous religious sights in Europe are still functioning facilities and places of worship, and as such have rules to visiting them. Of course there is the obvious respect of being quiet (even if it’s not your religion) and following rules around access and photography. Each site will have posted rules regarding photography, but here are our tips to being respectful at religious sites:
- stay calm and quiet
- allow those actually worshiping or praying to have the primary access
- stay in the designated areas for visitors
- DO NOT TOUCH THE ART
- follow photography guidelines
- if you are going to photograph a person, ask for their permission
- Follow the rules regarding COVERING UP and dressing appropriately
That last rule is very important. Even if you aren’t practicing any religion or do not understand the purpose of covering up, or even if you think forced modesty is oppressive, if you find value in visiting another’s religious site you must be respectful of their rules and beliefs. You don’t have to agree, but if what to do in Pisa or any other city includes touring churches, be a considerate human being.
Note: Santa Maria Assunta and other cathedrals that have clothing requirements often have disposable paper shawls or wraps available for purchase. Spend the two Euros to be respectful and get to experience the beautiful and significance of the religious sites you’re visiting.
The Leaning Tower of Pisa
If you’re feeling spirited, you can climb the tower. You do need to book climbing the Leaning Tower of Pisa in advance (we didn’t book it) and you’ll not want to be carrying a massive backpack (restricted). And since you’re in Tuscany, you’ll most likely be taking the train between Pisa and Florence, so…
Tip: if there’s only one thing you’re going to climb, save your strength for the bell tower at Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. It’ll provide you a greater thrill with more breathtaking views. Think about it: the main attraction in Pisa is the tower, so climbing it will lose you the view of it. Just a thought.
Tip 2: everybody is expecting everybody else to be doing the ridiculous “holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa” pose. Just do it. It hurts nobody and give a great reason to look silly. And I mean, do it for Instagram. #SMH
There are many more things to do and see directly surrounding the Field of Miracles, but if your goal is being speedy and seeing just the most monumental and touristy things, you’re already good to go. You can add onto your day trip to Pisa by visiting the Camposanto Monumentale di Pisa (amazing cemetary), the Pisa Botanicla Garden (opened in the 16th century), or visit the Museo Sinopie (all about the cathedral square and history). There’s so much to do in Pisa!
Finding souvenirs in Pisa
If you’re into purchasing tourist swag, unfortunately the place to do it is directly within the Field of Miracles. Because Pisa is still such a functional city and NOT completely catered to tourists, the best spot to find any souvenirs is at the Leaning Tower of Pisa or outside of the Pisa Centrale train station. It would be nice to visit the cathedral and baptistery without the eye-pollution of souvenir stands, but it’s there. Truth be told, this was the only place we could find patches of Italy to sew onto my travel bag.
Easy checklist for a day trip to Pisa
There are, of course, many other sights in Pisa and many ways to approach the city. If you’re looking for a way to be speedy and not feel like you’re missing out, here are the take-aways:
- Arrive early
- Check your luggage at the train station (Pisa Centrale)
- Walk to your destination to experience the city
- Do visit the most famous site: the Field of Miracles
- Take your time resting and enjoying the view
- Get back on the train to Florence or Genoa
Keep it simple and if you still don’t know what to do in Pisa after wandering beyond the main tourist sights, it’s good to ask for help or hire a guide. We don’t think that’s necessary, but if you’re really into the history or want a more curated experience, you can book a Pisa guide here. Or if you want to try something fun and education, book a Pisa segway tour!
Do you have any other cannot-miss sights in Pisa? How did you maximize your time in this Tuscan gem? Share in the comments below or email us and we’ll add your tips!
And feel free to pin this for later when you’re planning your trip around Italy or if you need reminders about taking the train from Florence to Pisa or anything. Have fun planning!
Rob Taylor is the founder of 2TravelDads, the original LGBT Family Travel blog. Focusing on ecotourism and education, 2TravelDads inspires LGBT families (and traditional families also) to go beyond their usual getaways and use travel to learn about and be part of a bigger world. “Traveling the globe and giving the kids a broad worldview.”