Three days in Pisa – the tower and beyond – day 1

While Pisa is most famous for its leaning tower (actually the Cathedral’s bell tower), the city has far more strings to its bow than its tilting tower alone. Pisa is a medieval university town home to ancient churches, centuries-old art, a picturesque river promenade, markets, fashion boutiques and tonnes of trattorias, not to mention the fact that Italy’s western coastline is just kilometres away. It’s no wonder, then, that Pisa attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.

09:00 – Leaning Tower of Pisa

Tower of Pisa_131867918Start your trip by taking in the tower that is Pisa’s most globally known icon, the Leaning Tower of Pisa (Torre Pendente di Pisa). This freestanding bell tower is located in Piazza del Duomo, also known as Piazza dei Miracoli, or the ‘Field of Miracles’.

The bell tower’s tilt is put down to the inadequate foundations used during its construction in the 1100s. While the tilt has been partially reduced in more recent decades to ensure the structure’s stability, the novelty of the tower’s angle continues to draw in a million visitors a year.

Climbing around 300 steps inside the tower will earn you awesome views over the rest of Pisa. Enjoy a strong coffee and a brioche (jam-filled bun) in one of the nearby cafés afterwards to do as the Italians love to do for a light breakfast.

10:30 – Piazza dei Miracoli buildings

Don’t be put off by the fact this is the most touristy part of town – international visitors flock here for a good reason and while you’re in the city you should soak up all the history the Piazza dei Miracoli offers. Hailed as a global centre for art, both the architecture of the buildings and their contents offer stunning history lessons.

duomo 1_3608711This centres on the Duomo, the cathedral of the Archdiocese of Pisa, with its Romanesque architecture and Byzantine mosaics inside. Also have a look at the domed Baptistery, the largest in Italy, and the Camposanto, the walled cemetery and adjoining Gothic cloister. While most of the frescoes were destroyed during World War II, the surviving ones can now be viewed at the nearby Museo delle Sinopie – most definitely worth a visit. The Museo dell’Opera del Duomo is also a popular stop. It’s home to many of the sculptures and furnishings no longer used in the cathedral and its other buildings.

Before you leave the Piazza dei Miracoli, make sure you take that must-have tourist photo of you apparently holding up the leaning tower – you’ll find the right spot for the camera trick in the Piazza dei Miracoli!

13:30 – Lunch and botanic garden

You’ll have worked up a good appetite by now. Move away from the more touristy cafés and bars near the Piazza dei Miracoli and stop for lunch at the family-run Ristoro Piccadilly, which has lunchtime pastas for as little as 6.50€, as well as other family-friendly dishes.

Nearby is the Orto Botanico di Pisa, the botanical gardens first established in the 1500s and run by the University of Pisa. With gardens, ponds, greenhouses and various arboreta, there’s no better place in Pisa for a gentle stroll to help you digest your lunch.

15:30 - Piazza dei Cavalieri

Continue your day of culture in Pisa by paying a visit to the second main square in the city, the Piazza dei Cavalieri, or Knight’s Square. As the centre of politics during the Pisan Republic as well as the seat of the Knights of Saint Stephen, various statues and monuments today pay homage to the square’s important history.

Piazza dei Cavalieri_76973071Buildings of interest in Piazza dei Cavalieri today include the Church of Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri and its bell tower, dating back to the 1500s. Given the focus on tackling piracy in the Mediterranean at the time, there are a number of trophies displayed inside from historical encounters with pirates. The Palazzo della Carovana was originally the headquarters of the Knights of Saint Stephen and is now a University building. Opposite is another palace, the Palazzo dell’Orologio, the previous infirmary of the Knights. Literature fans may recognise the location from Dante’s Divine Comedy, where he describes the imprisonment of the suspected traitor, Count Ugolino della Gherardesca, who was left to die of starvation here in 1288.

17:30 - Piazza Martiri della Libertà

Visit your final square for the day and head further east to Piazza Martiri della Libertà, Freedom Martyrs Square. A less visited part of town, it’s a great spot for a quieter walk and a lesser known insight into Pisa’s past. This was previously the location of a monastery and convent, both of which have been destroyed or demolished as a result of various events in history. Today, there’s still a statue of the Great Duke of Tuscany Peter Leopold, widely cited as being the brains behind many positive reforms in the region in the 1700s.

19:00 – Antipasti and dinner

Antipasti- flickr_franzcondeRound off your first evening in Pisa with a wander along the narrow backstreets in the area surrounding Piazza Martiri della Libertà, treating yourself to a glass of wine and some antipasti in one of the cutesy bars filled with locals, before heading over for a relaxed dinner at Osteria Rossini. A restaurant in a cave, serving traditional, home-made Tuscan classics, this local favourite ensures zero disappointment for your first meal in Pisa.